With the holidays fast approaching and the pandemic in full swing, more people are ordering online than ever before. Scammers know this and thus are taking advantage of innocent victims by using a new technique called brushing scams.
What is a Brushing Scam
The Better Business Bureau has begun warning consumers about brushing scams that are becoming popular all over the U.S. So, what is a brushing scam?
You arrive home to find a package sitting on your front porch. You don't even remember ordering anything, that's because you didn't! Brushing scams are when individuals or companies send you free items or empty boxes from accounts on Amazon or other big retailers. Typically, there will be no return address on the package. The merchandise is usually cheap, unwanted items like toothbrushes or vacuum cleaner parts, or sometimes things like flashlights and even Bluetooth speakers.
The items sent to victims are often lightweight so they can be shipped for little money; things like ping pong balls, face masks, or plant seeds.
Why Do People Use Brushing Scams?
Sometimes companies trying to earn top ratings on sites like e-Bay or Amazon send out fake orders to boost their sales figures. They can also post positive reviews under your account once they have placed an order in your name and shipped it to you directly.
The perpetrators are often foreign-based, third-party sellers trying to establish a presence on retail vendor sites. If you don't have accounts with the vendors, a scammer might open a shopper account for you in your name and enter your address as the shipping destination.
Why are Brushing Scams Dangerous?
It might seem nice at first, getting free products that you didn't order and didn't have to pay for, but it's not that simple. The first issue is that when these scammers use you to boost sales and ratings, it dupes other buyers into purchasing their products, which are usually junk. Therefore, you can't really trust ratings on sites like Amazon because you have no idea how many of the sales are actually real.
The second larger issue is that someone has your personal information and used it to perpetrate brushing scams but could also be using it for identity theft and fraud.
Another method used by some fraudsters is that they set up an account in your name, order merchandise, and then watch for it to be delivered and swipe it off your porch before you can get it. In these cases, you may or may not be charged. If the thief has your account login, that can be very dangerous for various reasons.
How Do Scammers Get Your Information?
There have been numerous data breaches over the past few years, and most Americans have been included in at least one of them. Typically, the information stolen is usernames and passwords, but in many of them, hackers acquired names, addresses, and phone numbers of victims. Due to the vast public records online and open social media profiles, diligent scammers can get pretty much any information they need to perform all types of fraudulent, criminal acts.
COVID has increased the number of data breaches, and treasure troves of data leaks have shown up on the dark web for sale. Chances are your information is somewhere in one of them.
What Can You Do to Stay Safe?
It's much easier to prevent a crime rather than to pick up the pieces after it has already happened. If you have already been "brushed," then you should contact the FTC and report the incident. You might also consider contacting the vendor (Amazon, e-Bay, etc.) to report it. They may be able to trace it back to the original scammer and remove their account. You can help protect other victims from buying the scammers' junk by doing this.
If you see reviews posted in your name, report those also.
Some other things you can do to protect yourself against brushing scams and identity theft are:
- Protect your personal information at all costs.
- Never give out personal details to anyone who calls or asks for it by email.
- Change your account passwords often.
- Always use strong passwords.
- Perform a personal background check on yourself to see what information is out there in public records about you and take steps to change it.
- Keep your computer and mobile devices updated with the latest security patches.
- Use good, strong antivirus/anti-malware software and run deep scans often.
- Be on the lookout for phishing emails and delete them.
- NEVER click a link in an email.
- Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements looking for suspicious activity.
- Sign up for credit monitoring to protect your credit and accounts.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to use common sense. If something appears to be "too good to be true," it usually is.