The Trade-Off With That Free, Unexpected Package You Received — Your Identity

Have you received an unexpected package lately? It might be from Amazon, Home Depot, or any other retailer you can think of. While receiving an unsolicited package might seem like a pleasant and cost-free surprise, it’s important to keep in mind that nothing truly comes free.

If you’re getting things as if you bought them, it means someone has your personal info — name, address, and maybe even your phone number. Once it’s online, it could be misused for various illegal activities.

These surprising parcels represent more than mere giveaways; they’re components of a larger illicit scheme. It’s a form of brushing scam — an unethical tactic that impacts not only individual buyers, but also retailers.

What Are Brushing Scams?

Brushing scams involve sending unsolicited products to unwitting recipients. The purpose is to generate fake positive reviews and inflate a seller’s reputation on eCommerce platforms. Scammers create fake accounts, make fraudulent orders to become verified buyers, and then write glowing reviews for their own products, boosting their visibility and credibility.  

Brands with a consistently positive review track record establish credibility and reliability, fostering loyalty and repeat business. Brushing can also elevate sales figures through fabricated purchases, enhancing the seller’s standing and prompting a surge of genuine sales. 

Another twist on this strategy entails the “porch pirate” method, where wrongdoers, armed with the address and probably the tracking number of the package, wait for delivery, and make off with the package before the intended recipient can lay hands on it. 

Impact of Brushing

For retailers, brushing scams can initially seem positive as they inflate sales figures and may boost their online reputation. However, in the long term, these scams can erode customer trust as genuine consumers receive subpar products. The increased number of fake reviews can also dilute the credibility of authentic feedback, making it harder for shoppers to make informed decisions.

Consumers suffer in various ways as well. Those caught up in brushing scams may unwittingly receive substandard or counterfeit products, or none at all.

Worse, if a consumer is caught in a brushing scam, it means scammers have captured their name, address, phone number, and perhaps other information, and the consumer could be a victim of other, more harmful, scams down the road.

What’s Being Done About It

In late June, PYMNTS reported about the new law in town — the INFORM Act. The recent legislation aims to address organized retail theft as well as the trafficking of counterfeit and dangerous items within digital marketplaces, but it’s also looking to create transparency.

“People deserve to know basic information about those who sell them consumer products online. By providing appropriate verification and transparency of high-volume third-party sellers, the INFORM Consumers Act will deter online sales of stolen, counterfeit, and unsafe goods and protect consumers,” said U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a statement at the time.

“The bill is crucial to protecting Americans from scammers on the internet.”  

The INFORM Act primarily targets the sale of counterfeit goods on eCommerce. Its objective is to enhance transparency and elevate seller verification criteria.

The goal is to establish standards for both online marketplaces and sellers. This involves mandating that marketplaces collect data on sellers with high sales volumes.

The legislation mandates that third-party sellers conducting 200 or more sales a year, with a cumulative value exceeding $5,000 on platforms like eBay and Amazon, must furnish their identification and contact details to major marketplace platforms.

These third-party sellers are obligated to finalize the necessary identification procedures within a 10-day window; failure to adhere to this timeframe will lead to the suspension of their seller accounts.

How INFORM Can Address Brushing

The primary goal of the act is to find a middle ground between safeguarding consumers and providing support to small businesses.

The INFORM Act has garnered support from various stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies, manufacturers, consumer groups, retailers and sellers.  

In response to the act, Amazon said in an email to Inc.: “Amazon has a zero-tolerance policy for counterfeit products. We have proactive measures in place to prevent counterfeit products from being listed and continuously monitor our store. If we identify an issue, we act quickly to protect customers and brands, including removing counterfeit listings and blocking accounts. We applaud the new Inform regulation in establishing a baseline expectation for the entire industry.” 

In 2022, Amazon blocked the infiltration of 6 million counterfeit items into its network by leveraging its Anti-Counterfeiting Exchange. This platform facilitates the exchange of information among participating stores to combat counterfeiters, promoting collaboration among industry stakeholders to detect and halt fraudulent sellers.

While the act focuses on counterfeit goods, creating transparency and trust around sellers and instilling consumer confidence addresses various issues including brushing scams because sellers will be put under a larger microscope.

Retailers engaged in third-party marketplace sales, particularly on platforms like Amazon, should prioritize transparency, honesty and integrity. This approach nurtures consumer trust and cultivates thriving and enduring online businesses.