TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Tulare County agricultural officials are warning residents about “mysterious and unsolicited seeds” shipped from China being received by homeowners across California and multiple states.
The seed packages are often labeled as jewelry, toys and other common item names, said Christopher P. Greer, Assistant Agricultural Commissioner. State officials have been communicating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine any necessary actions for shipments received in the state.
The shipments could possibly be a part of what is called a “brushing” scam, according to the USDA and the Better Business Bureau.
The scam involves businesses sending their merchandise to your home in order to post a fake, positive review on their products, said Jane Rupp, of the BBB of Northern Nevada and Utah.
“Often, retailers require reviewers to have actually bought the product. You can’t review something if you haven’t bought it. So, these shady businesses have to make it look like their fake reviews come from legitimate people,” she said. “Because big retailers like Amazon verify and track addresses and packages through a third party like the U.S. Postal Service, scammers can’t send packages to bogus places.”
Instead, scammers go online, find real addresses of real people and create fake accounts.
“They then mail these unsuspecting people an actual product—or something completely unrelated to what they’re selling,” Rupp said. “After the tracking system confirms delivery, these scammers can then leave a ‘verified’ review in your name.”
The BBB said in any case, receiving one of these packages could mean that scammers have some of your information and may have also created an account in your name. They may also have your name and address, and possibly your phone number and a password.
The consumer organization also urged anyone who received such a package to change your password. Keep a close eye on your credit report, bank accounts and credit card bills.
“By looking up your name and address using a search engine, you can in some cases see how public your information has become,” the BBB said.
You could look up the company who sent you the seeds. If you find a listing on a third party retailer, contact that company’s customer service and report the brushing scam.
Tulare County agricultural officials are instructing residents to not open or plant any unsolicited seed packages received and to instead contact them or their local agricultural commissioner’s office.
Greer stressed that the seed packets should not be opened, planted, shipped or disposed of by residents “to prevent any potential dispersal of invasive species and/or quarantine pests.”
A resident in Tulare County did receive a package of seeds and county officials are in contact with them to pick up the seeds and hold them at their office.
Residents who received such a package can contact the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office at 559-684-3350 or through email at Aginfo@co.tulare.ca.us, so that collection, isolation and proper storage for the seeds can be arranged.
Anyone who has planted these seeds are urged to also contact the office for additional directions.