Got a package you didn’t order? It could be a scam (2023)

By Nathaniel Meyersohn and Zach Wasser | CNN Business

Most people who buy things online just have to worry about their deliveries being delayed or never arriving. But some people are dealing with a different problem altogether: getting weird stuff like hair clippers, face creams and sunglasses they never even ordered at all.

The Federal Trade Commission and cyber experts have been warning consumers about these deliveries, which can be part of something known as “brushing” scams.

Here’s how these scams work: Third-party sellers on Amazon, eBay and other online marketplaces pay people to write fake, positive reviews about their products, or do it themselves. To be able to post the reviews, these so-called “brushers” need to trick the site into making it appear that a legitimate transaction took place. So they’ll use a fake account to place gift orders and address them to a random person whose name and address they find online. Then, instead of actually mailing the item for which they want to post a review, the brushers will send a cheap, often lightweight item that costs less to ship.

Sending an item (even the wrong one) creates a tracking number, and when the package is delivered, it enables brushers to write a verified review. If you’re on the receiving end, you usually aren’t charged for the purchase and your real account isn’t hacked — but you are left in the dark as to who is repeatedly sending the mystery packages. In many cases, there’s no return address. You don’t need to worry that anything bad has happened to you or will happen to you if you get a package that might be part of a brushing scam, experts say. But we all need to be concerned about the scams affecting reviews we rely on when buying products.

Brushing scams reportedly took off on e-commerce sites in China around five years ago. They resurfaced in headlines last summer, when all 50 states issued warnings about mysterious, unsolicited packages of seeds that people across the nation received in the mail.

(Video) Amazon scam warning, beware of deliveries you didn't order

[vemba-video id=”business/2021/01/22/brushing-scam-amazon-package-didnt-order-zw-orig.cnn-business”]

But it’s not just seeds. Unsuspecting recipients have also found boxes with goods ranging from dog pooper-scoopers to power cords to soap dispensers on their doorsteps.

Jen Blinn of Thousand Oaks, California, told CNN Business she has been receiving random packages since June, including most recently a briefcase, a backpack, a hair straightener and a coffee-cup warmer.

“Every two weeks…I get another package in the mail of just random stuff I never ordered,” she said. Blinn notified Amazon of the issue, but a customer service agent “didn’t really understand what I was saying. She obviously didn’t know about it,” she said. The agent looked at Blinn’s account and found nothing wrong with it.

It’s not illegal to send customers unordered merchandise. But “the [Federal Trade Commission] has long gone after marketers that use fake reviews,” said David Vladeck, a former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and a law professor at Georgetown University.

Amazon says its policy prohibits sellers sending unsolicited merchandise to customers, and that sellers can be removed from the site for doing so.

“Third-party sellers are prohibited from sending unsolicited packages to customers and we take action on those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or removing selling privileges, or working with law enforcement,” an Amazon spokesperson said in an email. Amazon would not say how how many brushing scams have been found on the site or how many sellers have been removed due to these scams.

(Video) Got a Package You Didn’t Order? Beware; You Might Lose All Your Money.

An eBay spokesperson said in an email that brushing schemes “do not appear to be highly prevalent” on the site. It violates eBay policy to send unsolicited merchandise to customers or falsify reviews and can result in eBay restricting sellers’ accounts or suspending them from the site.

Experts also say it’s difficult to quantify the frequency of such scams because it can be hard for companies to know whether reviews are fake, and scams often go unreported by consumers.

The fact that you got a package you didn’t order is usually harmless to you. The harm is to people who rely on reviews when deciding on a purchase, said Chris McCabe, a former policy enforcement investigator at Amazon tasked with stopping scams and fraud. He is now a consultant to sellers on the site.

“The real losers here are the consumers who are possibly believing many of these fake positive reviews, or this artificial padding of reviews, because they might see 100 positive reviews, and then there may only be 60 or 70 of them that are legitimate,” he said.

The likelihood that a consumer will buy a product that has five reviews is 270% higher than the likelihood they will buy a product with zero reviews, according to a 2017 report by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center.

Some fake reviews are also being driven by Facebook groups where sellers offer buyers money if they write positive product reviews, said McCabe. Amazon and Facebook should work together to crack down on these groups, he said.

An Amazon spokesperson said that the company analyzes more than 10 million reviews every week to try to keep fake ones from being published and that it provides details of its investigations to social media companies “so they can stop these bad actors from abusing their platforms.”

(Video) UNWANTED “packages” showing up at your door (brushing scam) how it works

A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that when the company is told of groups that may encourage fake reviews, it reviews them and removes them if they violate its policies.

Unwanted sheets and Shiatsu massagers

For consumers, the unexpected deliveries can be jarring. The packages Ashanté Nicole never ordered started arriving at her home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2019.

iPhone and portable car chargers. An iPad case. A heated shiatsu massage. A nail cleaning brush and a blow dryer. Sheets. A mattress cover. A floppy fish toy.

They didn’t have return addresses, so Nicole wasn’t sure who was sending the packages. She reached out to Amazon to try to stop them from coming, but they still keep arriving at her doorstep.

“It was just kind of a little bit concerning because I don’t know who has my information,” she said. “I don’t know what they’re going to send me. Like they could send something illegal and then I’m in trouble because I didn’t know whoever that person was or what they were sending me.”

If you get merchandise you didn’t order, it could mean that scammers have created an account in your name or taken over your account, an FTC spokesperson said in an email. Scammers may have even created new accounts in other names tied to your address, allowing them to post lots of seemingly-real reviews.

“We recommend keeping an eye on your online shopping accounts. If you spot activity that isn’t yours, report it to the site right away, and think about changing your password for that site,” the spokesperson said.

(Video) Did you get an unexpected package? BBB warns of 'Brushing Scams'

Nicole feels she has done all she can by alerting Amazon each time unsolicited packages from the retailer arrive at her doorstep.

“There’s literally nothing I can do besides tell Amazon every time it happens. And that hasn’t really done much,” she said.

Amazon declined to comment directly on Nicole and Blinn’s accounts, but said if a customer receives a package that was unsolicited, they should contact Amazon’s customer service team.

Nicole said she hopes Amazon will do more to stop brushing and ban sellers who participate in the scams.

“I just think they need to be a little bit more concerned with shutting those stores down and making sure those sellers can’t use the platform.”

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Got a package you didn’t order? It could be a scam (1)

(Video) 'Brushing Scam' | Did you receive a package that is not yours?


Is a package delivered and I didn't order a scam? ›

Third-party sellers are prohibited from sending unsolicited packages to customers. If you receive a package that you did not order and is not a gift, report it immediately. When a customer receives a package they didn't order, it may be a scam called "brushing".

What do I do if I receive a package that I didn't order? ›

By law, unsolicited merchandise is yours to keep, according to the United States Postal Inspection Service. So you don't have to return any package you receive, and if you don't want it, you can donate it to a good cause.

What to do if you are a victim of brushing? ›

If you feel you have been the victim of a brushing scam, you do have the option to keep the items if you want, as you are under no legal obligation to pay for them. Or, if the package has not been opened, you can mark it “Return to Sender” and the Post Office will return it at no charge to you.

Why did I get an email about a package I didn't order? ›

Fake shipping and package delivery notices have been going out by email to consumers for quite a while. Officials are concerned more consumers will fall for the scam as they do more and more shopping on line.

How do you know if you're getting scammed with package? ›

Common warning signs of a package tracking scam
  • Unexpected and urgent requests for money.
  • Appeals for personal information.
  • Requests for financial information.
  • Grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Use of excessive exclamation marks or other punctuation marks.
  • Unsolicited emails from unspecified email addresses.
Sep 23, 2022

How do you know if a package is suspicious? ›

Common Characteristics of Suspicious Packages

Package is rigid, bulky, or has excessive tape/string. Poor handwriting, misspellings, improperly addressed. Excessive postage, no postage, or no/strange return address. Ticking, vibration, abnormal sounds, strange odors.

What happens if a company sends me something I didn't order? ›

Under state and federal law, recipients of unordered merchandise may keep the goods and are under no obligation to pay for or return them. The recipient may treat the merchandise as an unconditional gift—and may use or dispose of the merchandise as he or she sees fit. The recipient also may refuse to accept delivery.

Can you keep wrongly delivered packages? ›

Legally, you're allowed to keep a mistaken delivery. Surprising, right? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules that allow you to keep merchandise that's wrongly delivered — even if you didn't pay for it. The logic is that sellers can't just send you goods and demand money for them.

Can you open a package that has your address but not your name? ›

The short answer is “yes.” Opening or destroying mail that is addressed to someone else is a crime called “Obstruction of Correspondence.” It is a serious felony that could lead to prison time.

What is order brushing? ›

29-11-2022. Brushing refers to the deceitful act of creating fake orders, reviews, followers, and likes to boost sales. Before buyers make a purchase, they would refer to credibility indicators such as order count, reviews, followers, and likes of shops and products to guide their purchase decisions.

What if I received an IPAD I didn't order? ›

If you get text messages, emails about a new service or device you didn't order, contact the provider right away and dispute the charges. Add a pin or code to your cell phone provider account as an extra layer of security, which should make it harder for scammers to get access to your account.

What is empty package scalping? ›

Empty package scalping is an e-commerce scheme where an online business will inflate successful package delivery statistics on popular e-commerce platforms by mailing and then tracking successful delivery of fake or empty packages.

Can I open a package sent to my address? ›

If you get a package you didn't order in the mail, you shouldn't open it. Packages are sometimes dropped off at the wrong location, so you might receive a package that's meant for someone else. But if you get a package you didn't order and see your name and address on the box, you should avoid opening it.

What are suspicious packages in the mail? ›

If you suspect you have received a suspicious package, isolate the item, maintain a safe distance from the item, wash your hands, and immediately call Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455 and state “emergency.” If medical attention is warranted, contact local authorities immediately.

Can a company fake tracking number? ›

Some scammers have learned that they don't even have to provide working tracking numbers. They simply send what looks like a normal order confirmation email with a phony number. Recipients never check the tracking number until they haven't received a package (or received a package with the wrong items).

Do banks refund scammed money? ›

Contact your bank immediately to let them know what's happened and ask if you can get a refund. Most banks should reimburse you if you've transferred money to someone because of a scam.

How does brushing work? ›

Our office has been alerted to reports of “brushing” scams. Brushing scams occur when a person receives a package from a business containing various items that they never ordered. The packages will be addressed to your residence, but usually do not have a return address or have the return address of a retailer.

Why is it called brushing? ›

Why Is It Called Brushing? Brushing scams are called Brushing because the scammer will "brush" their products past the quality control inspection of a 3rd party logistics (3PL) company, and then resell those products to Amazon customers.

What are 3 examples of a suspicious package? ›

Suspicious packages
  • Unfamiliar return address or none at all.
  • Strange odour or noise.
  • Protruding wires.
  • Excessive postage.
  • Misspelled words.
  • Addressed to a business title only (e.g. President)
  • Restrictive markings (e.g. Do not X-ray)
  • Badly typed or written.

Should I open an unknown package? ›

Handling the Suspicious Package

If you believe the package may be suspicious, it is important that you do not shake, open, or empty the contents of the package. You should also avoid carrying the package or showing it to others to examine.

What are the 4 C's for suspicious packages? ›

When dealing with suspicious items apply the 4 Cs protocol: CONFIRM, CLEAR, COMMUNICATE AND CONTROL. a log of decisions and actions is maintained.

What if I received a package for someone else with my address? ›

When you receive a mistaken delivery, call customer service for the delivery company and explain the situation. Give them the tracking number on the package, as well as the name and address on the package if it's different from yours. The company will come and pick up the product within a reasonable time frame.

How do I find out who sent an anonymous package? ›

You can't. The tracking number will only give you the post office of origin, not the name of a person. In addition, the person could have mailed it from a post office 100 miles away from where they lived.

What happens if a company sends you someone else's order? ›

You have the legal right to keep it as a free gift, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Sellers aren't permitted to ask for payment for unordered items, either, and the FTC says consumers are under no obligation to even tell the seller about the wrongly delivered merchandise.

How do you find out who sent you a package from USPS? ›

Identifying the Sender

Visit and submit the tracking number. The tracking system may only provide you with the city, state and zip code of the sender, but this may be all the information you need to determine the sender's identity.

Is it illegal to keep a package that isn't yours? ›

Intentionally opening, intercepting or hiding someone else's mail is the felony crime of mail theft. It comes with some heavyweight penalties, including five years' incarceration in a federal prison.”

Is keeping a misdelivered package theft? ›

Under this view, whether an unintended recipient receives misdelivered or misaddressed mail, it is unlawful to remove any such item from the mail and possess it with the intent of preventing the item from reaching its intended recipient. Such mail is considered stolen and is protected by § 1708.

Can I throw away mail that is not mine? ›

While it may be tempting to shred or throw away this mail, doing so may constitute a felony. Obstruction of correspondence is a federal criminal offense. Upon conviction, you may face up to five years in prison for destroying someone else's mail.

How can someone send me a package without my address? ›

How To Receive A Package Without Giving An Address: 4 easy ways for 2022
  1. Package receiving service. A package receiving service is a great way to get items delivered without using your home address. ...
  2. Package locker systems. ...
  3. Sign up for a PO Box. ...
  4. Get your parcel delivered to a friend (or your office)
May 5, 2023

Can you pick up a package thats not in your name? ›

written authorization (and their own valid photo ID). Authorization can be written directly on the delivery notice (on the back of PS Form 3849) or on plain paper (simply a note on paper saying that "a name" has permission to pick up mail for "my name", and then it needs to be signed) from the addressee.

What not to do after brushing? ›

Don't rinse with water straight after toothbrushing

After brushing, spit out any excess toothpaste. Don't rinse your mouth immediately after brushing, as it'll wash away the concentrated fluoride in the remaining toothpaste. Rinsing dilutes it and reduces its preventative effects.

What happens during brushing? ›

When you brush your teeth, you help remove food and plaque — a sticky white film that forms on your teeth and contains bacteria. After you eat a meal or snack that contains sugar, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel.

What does brushing 2 times a day do? ›

Brushing twice daily helps prevent tartar buildup.

When you brush twice a day, plaque can be removed before it hardens into position. While plaque is still soft, it can easily be brushed and flossed away. However, once it hardens, it remains in place until it is scraped away at your next dental cleaning.

Can a stolen iPad be tracked by serial number? ›

You cannot. There is no function or method to finding a device using the serial number for it.

Is My iPad Stolen? ›

To find your device, sign in to Or use the Find My app on another Apple device that you own. If your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch doesn't appear in the list of devices, Find My was not turned on. But you can still protect your account if Find My was not turned on.

What to do if you were sold an iPad that is locked? ›

If the passcode lock screen or the Home screen appears, the device hasn't been erased. Ask the seller to completely erase the device by going to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. Don't take ownership of any used iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch until it's been erased.

What if I got a package from USPS that is not mine? ›

If you have not opened the package, mark it “Return to Sender.” The Postal Service will send it back at no charge to you. If you open the package and don't like what you find, throw it away. If you open the package and like what you find, keep it — free.

What is the empty box trick on Amazon? ›

Some news outlets are reporting an “empty box” scam in which a third-party seller accepts payment for your order and ships you an empty box. Under Amazon's terms of use, if you accept the package then the seller may or may not be held accountable for the missing items.

Why did I receive an empty envelope in the mail? ›

A wave of reports is being made by confused people who've received empty envelopes in the mail, and experts say they're coming from third-party merchants on Amazon that fit the pattern of a known scam called “brushing,” where merchants create fake transactions on the site and then use the deliveries to create fake ...

Why did I get a package I didn't order? ›

If you receive a package that you did not order and is not a gift, report it immediately. When a customer receives a package they didn't order, it may be a scam called "brushing". "Brushing" scams occur when bad actors send packages to publicly available names and addresses.

What to do with a package that I didn't order? ›

You don't have to pay for it.

Federal law may allow recipients to keep items they received but did not order. Recipients are under no obligation to pay for unsolicited merchandise and can consider it a gift. If you don't want the item, you can donate it or simply dispose of it and do not have to return it.

Can I open a package that is not mine? ›

Is it illegal to open someone else's mail in California? Is it illegal to open someone else's UPS package? If a package has my address on it but I didn't order it, would it be considered stealing if I opened it and used it? Yes, it is illegal to do so.

What does a suspicious package look like? ›

Common Characteristics of Suspicious Packages

Package is rigid, bulky, or has excessive tape/string. Poor handwriting, misspellings, improperly addressed. Excessive postage, no postage, or no/strange return address. Ticking, vibration, abnormal sounds, strange odors.

What flags a package? ›

Misspelled words, badly typed or written lettering, restrictive markings and no return address could indicate trouble. Labels could be a red flag. If a package is sent with an incorrect title or addressed to a title only, it has the potential to be dangerous if opened. How is the package shaped?

What does suspicious mail look like? ›

Misspelled common words. No return address or strange return address. Unusual addressing, such as not being addressed to a specific person or the use of incorrect titles or titles with no name. Restrictive markings, such as “personal,” “confidential,” or “do not x-ray”

Can a scammer fake a USPS tracking number? ›

Yes, a USPS tracking number can be fake. Scammers may create fake tracking numbers to trick people into thinking that a package has been shipped when it has not. This can be done to steal personal information, such as credit card numbers, or to simply delay the delivery of a package.

What does a real tracking number look like? ›

The most common tracking number format is 20 digits or a combination of 13 alphabetic and numeric characters, usually starting with 2 alphabets, following by 9 digits, and ending with "US". Some other less common formats may also exist, such as 10 digits.

Can someone get my address from a tracking number? ›

No, actually. We cannot obtain your address information with your tracking number.

Is there a text message scam about package delivery? ›

If you suspect the text message you have received is suspicious but are expecting a parcel, please do not click on any links. Rather, report it and visit from your mobile device or computer for tracking and additional resources.

What if my USPS package says delivered but I didn't get it? ›

You'll be asked to wait seven days from the expected delivery date to start an official Missing Mail Case, but as soon as that timeline has passed you can reach out directly to the USPS through the Find Missing Mail section of their website or by going to and punching in your tracking information.

Is it legal to keep a package accidentally delivered to you? ›

Legally, you're allowed to keep a mistaken delivery. Surprising, right? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules that allow you to keep merchandise that's wrongly delivered — even if you didn't pay for it. The logic is that sellers can't just send you goods and demand money for them.

How do I stop fake package messages? ›

In the US, unwanted texts and internet scams can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission via the National Do Not Call Registry. You can also add your number to their Do Not Text list, which unsubscribes you from known spammers by banning them from targeting you.

How do I stop fake delivery messages? ›

Forward the message to 7726, a free spam-reporting service provided by phone operators. If you are not sure how to forward a text message from your particular device, search online for instructions. Delete the message.

What happens if you text a scammer back? ›

Directly replying to a spam text message lets a spammer know that your number is genuine. What happens next They can sell your phone number to other spammers who might bombard you with false promises of free gifts and product offers. Instead, it's best to block and report the number.

Why was my package out for delivery but never delivered? ›

This could happen because the driver has misplaced it in the van, it has been mis-scanned, or something has gone wrong. You should check the tracking information again, and see if it gets delivered the following day.

Can I get a refund if USPS doesn't deliver? ›

Priority Mail Express® service items may be eligible for a refund. The United States Postal Service® refunds the postage and, if purchased, the Sunday or holiday premium fee: When the item is not delivered by the guaranteed delivery date and time specified at the time of mailing.

Can I keep a package I didn't order? ›

Your Rights When You Get Unordered Merchandise

By law, companies can't send unordered merchandise to you, then demand payment. That means you never have to pay for things you get but didn't order. You also don't need to return unordered merchandise. You're legally entitled to keep it as a free gift.


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