Various singers have been belting out "The Best Things in Life Are Free" since the late 1920s, but be wary of hidden strings attached and scams. Take it from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is warning of a new scam called "brushing" that entails free goods in Amazon boxes landing on your doorstep. Your information is then used by the scammer to leave a positive review for a product.
"The companies, usually foreign, third-party sellers that are sending the items are simply using your address and your Amazon information. 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," BBB explains. "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."
You are legally allowed to keep unordered merchandise, according to rules set forth by the Federal Trade Commission. In addition, the FCC says "you have no legal obligation to notify the seller" when you received an item you did not order, though the agency notes you can offer to return it on the seller's dime.
According to the BBB, the brushing scam involves various different items, and it is happening all over the country. It could be a humidifier, Bluetooth speaker, hand warmer, computer vacuum, flashlight, or anything else. Since you are legally allowed to keep these unordered items, you may feel as though you have gotten lucky. However, the opposite might actually be true.
"The fact that someone was able to have the items sent to you as if you purchased them indicates that they probably have some of your Amazon account information. Certainly, they have your name and address and possibly, your phone number and a password. The company either hacked your account themselves or purchased the information from a hacker. Once the information is out there, it could be used for numerous crooked enterprises," BBB says.
In addition to the fake reviews, the brushing scam also benefits the culprit by padding their sales numbers—any items you unexpectedly receive show up as a sale, which in turn looks good for the company and can lead to more actual sales.
There is yet another angle. In some cases, the BBB says thieves use other people's mailing addresses and accounts, then stalk the home when a delivery is expected to steal the package. Porch pirates are not new by any means, but it's a double-whammy if they also used your account information to buy the item.
If any of this has happened to you, consider changing your account information ASAP. Also, BBB encourages reporting the incident to Amazon, as brushing is illegal.