Face masks used by many around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have joined the list of items arriving by mail unsolicited in Tampa-area homes.
Florida news station WFLA reported that Clearwater, Fla., resident Shan Sharp received a package addressed to her in her mailbox containing two packages of face masks; the package contained no shipping information other than writing indicating that it originated from a district in Shanghai, China. The packaging also reportedly listed several pieces of identifying information belonging to Sharp, including her cellphone number.
“I was afraid to even open it after I saw it,” Sharp told the news station. “I didn’t want to keep it in my house."
The boxes are apparently part of so-called brushing scams, identified by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in recent days as a practice by which sellers boost their reputation on Amazon and other marketplaces by sending fake or unsolicited purchases to consumers in order to leave fake positive reviews on those platforms.
"Their intention is to make it appear as though you wrote a glowing online review of their merchandise, and that you are a verified buyer of that merchandise. They then post a fake, positive review to improve their products’ ratings, which means more sales for them. The payoff is highly profitable from their perspective," the BBB's website explains.
The unsolicited mask deliveries follow previous reports of mysterious unmarked packages of seeds delivered to residents of all 50 states from China in recent days, which federal officials have said was likely part of a similar scam.
"Brushing scams involving seed packets in international mail shipments are not uncommon," said the USDA in a news release. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has intercepted similar seed shipments in recent years."
FTC officials say the deliveries could indicate that companies or other individuals have access to users' personal identifying information, possibly including passwords.
"It could mean that the scammers have created an account in your name, or taken over your account, on online retail sites. Or even created new accounts (maybe lots of them) in other names tied to your address. Letting them post lots of seemingly-real reviews," reads a recent announcement from Jennifer Leach, associate director of the FTC's Division of Consumer and Business Education on the agency's website.