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How to spot a brushing scam

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

Have you ever received a parcel that you didn’t order and wasn’t a gift?

You could have been caught up in a “brushing” scam. This type of scam is used by dodgy online marketplace sellers to boost their sales. It could also be a sign that your personal information has been compromised.

We’re digging into how this type of scam works, what to look out for and what you can do to protect yourself.

Brushing scams help dodgy marketplace sellers boost their sales

Brushing scams most often occur through Amazon, but they happen on other marketplace sites, too. Sellers create fake customer accounts using random names and addresses and use them to place orders for their own products. They then post out the orders, often without a return address. Later, they use the fake accounts to write themselves glowing reviews.

All sorts of items get sent out in brushing scams. The scam hit the headlines in 2020 after thousands of people received mysterious packets of plant seeds in the post. Since then, reported brushing scams have included everything from bike pumps to bathmats.

Brushing scams get their name from the idea of ‘brushing aside suspicion’ and making dodgy activities look genuine. This is exactly what this type of scam does. As far as Amazon can tell, the review is from a genuine, verified customer. It then bumps the scammer’s items up Amazon’s product listings, so the dodgy seller gets more customers.

Despite seeming harmless, brushing scams could be a sign of a wider problem

Brushing scams appear harmless. But they can be a sign of more sinister goings-on and have the potential to cost you money. 

Your personal information could have been compromised

Instead of hacking accounts, in brushing scams Amazon sellers typically set up fake accounts using name and address details they find online. They may find these details among information leaked in a data breach.

If this is the case, then personal details like your name, address, and date of birth could be available to fraudsters. They could use this information to apply for credit in your name, impersonate you, and even steal from you. So, while the brushing scam itself may seem innocent, it could show that you’re at risk of more serious fraud.

Brushing scammers may be using stolen card details to pay for their fake orders

As well as using stolen names and addresses in a brushing scam, the fraudster may also be using stolen card details to make money on their fake sales.

You may not notice it straight away if your card has been used in a brushing scam. Many of us shop with Amazon and other marketplaces regularly. You probably wouldn’t think a transaction from them on your account was unusual. The items sold in brushing scams also tend to be relatively cheap. They’re unlikely to make a big enough dent in your account balance that you’d immediately stop and look closely at where your money has gone.

Once a scammer has seen they can get away with using your card once, they may use it again and again, costing you money each time.

Brushing scams can dupe shoppers into buying poor-quality items

Amazon and other marketplaces often display products based on sales and review scores. This gives you the impression that an item you buy is reliable and good value for money.

However, the Amazon sellers who resort to brushing scams typically sell poor-quality items. So, what you’re led to believe is a good value purchase may turn out to be a waste of money.

What to do if you receive a parcel out of the blue

If you receive a parcel you weren’t expecting and think you’ve been caught up in a brushing scam, follow these steps:

  • Double-check the packaging for a gift note or return address. Sometimes these are in an envelope inside the parcel. More often they’re just small, loose slips of paper that you could easily miss.
  • Report it to Amazon using their online form or by contacting their customer service team. You won’t be required to return the item.
  • Protect your personal information. Change your account password. Notify your bank to let them know you may have been a victim of fraud. You may even want to sign up for a fraud protection and monitoring service.

Remember, receiving an unsolicited Amazon parcel doesn’t mean your account has been hacked!

How to protect yourself from a brushing scam

We spoke to our in-house fraud expert, Ben Fleming, about how to protect yourself from a brushing scam. Here are his top tips:

  • Opt out of publicly available sources of information like the open electoral roll. This prevents companies from buying your personal details to advertise to you – or in this case, to send you random parcels. It doesn’t affect your ability to vote or get the credit score benefits of being on the electoral roll.
  • Ramp up your social media privacy settings. Hide personal information from people who aren’t friends or followers. And, be careful what details you share on social media platforms.
  • Regularly check your bank and credit card transactions. Look for anything you don’t recognise. Brushing scammers may use stolen card details to pay for their fake orders. Make sure you can match up all your transactions with something you bought or paid for. Anything left over could be a sign your details have been used fraudulently.
  • Change your passwords routinely and enable two-factor authentication on any accounts that support it. This can help stop your accounts from falling into the wrong hands.
  • Check all deliveries you receive. Brushing scammers may be more active at the times of year you’re likely to be receiving more parcels. For example, the January sales, Black Friday, Amazon Prime Day, or Christmas. If you receive anything you weren’t expecting that doesn’t come with any details of who purchased it, ask your friends and family. If nobody owns up to sending it, assume it’s a scam.

Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

Author Profile Image: Helen Fox

Helen Fox

Personal Finance Editor

Helen is a personal finance editor who’s spent 11 years (and counting!) in the finance industry. She creates content on everything money with the goal of getting people thinking – and talking – about their finances in ways they may not have done before.

Happy young Caucasian woman sit on couch in living room unpack cardboard box with Internet order Happy young Caucasian woman sit on couch in living room unpack cardboard box with Internet order