Contact 2 investigates “brushing” scams

ST. LOUIS - “We got a down comforter. Oscillating fan. We got 1,500 (thread) count sheets for a twin bed,” said a St. Louis County homeowner.

We’re not identifying this family for their safety but the products described are just three of more than two dozen items shipped randomly to their home.

“Approximately three months ago, we received a package and it was addressed to a family member. And then the next day, we got two packages,” the homeowner said.

As the packages continued to arrive, their suspicion grew. Odder than the products they received is the fact they didn’t order any of them! This phenomenon is happening to other families across the country.

“I didn’t know if I would be billed for it. You just don’t know what could happen,” said an Alabama homeowner.

“Initially, it was somewhat comical. Another package would come from ‘Mr. Amazon’ I’d say. Let’s see what’s in it today,” said a Massachusetts couple.

It’s a scam called "brushing." Online sellers create fake buyer accounts and ship products to real addresses. The seller then writes a positive review of its products from the fake buyer account because positive product reviews help drive online sales.

“They’re trying to bypass the authentication processes that online marketplaces try to put on to make sure customer reviews are real and not fake,” said Elizabeth Garcia, the Better Business Bureau.

“It did not cost hardly anything to send this, but the merchant that sent this out is most likely using this opportunity to give themselves raving reviews to make more money,” said Postal Inspector Tony Robinson.

But here’s what makes this St. Louis case different. Most of the brushing cases we’ve seen involve Amazon shipments, usually from overseas sellers. None of the products our local family received came from Amazon and all appear to be from domestic vendors. One of the unique items they received included an invoice indicating the product was sold to someone in Pittsburgh, but shipped to the St. Louis family.

Contact 2’s Mike Colombo tracked down the Pennsylvania woman the supplement was allegedly sold to. She said she didn’t buy the pills. While her name and address were accurate on the invoice, the woman told Colombo the cellphone number and email address listed don’t belong to her.

Colombo also contacted “Now Foods.” A company representative told him there were no signs of fraud and that it didn’t seem like a brushing scam since it doesn’t post reviews on its website or allow third-party sellers on nowfoods.com.

“We haven’t used anything, and we don’t intend to until we make sure there’s nothing going on here,” said the St. Louis County homeowner.

So what exactly is going on here? It’s got all the hallmarks of a brushing scam. Why victims are targeted remains unclear, but it’s likely because their information was compromised in some way. There’s nothing you can do to stop the packages from arriving, but what you can do is contact the retailer they came from as well as the credit reporting agencies and your bank.