Getting Free Items From Amazon? It Might Be a Brushing Scam

Everyone loves getting a package in the mail, but sometimes you get an item you don’t remember ordering. Before you chalk up an odd package to an error on Amazon’s part, you should consider that it may be part of a brushing scam.

So, what is a brushing scam, and how does it work? Moreover, how does it affect you and your life?

What Is a Brushing Scam?

A brushing scam is when an individual or company selling a product on Amazon buys their own product and sends it to random people. The scam requires the scammer to send the parcel to a legitimate name and address, so they’ll use harvested information in order to complete the attack.

Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/

This data consists of simple details you’ve already provided, just enough to create an Amazon account in your name, place orders, and leave reviews. Troubling, right? This is the kind of threat that makes legitimate brands like TikTok using data mining a concern.

Once the brushing scammer buys a product under your name and address, you’ll eventually get an Amazon parcel in the mail that you don’t remember ordering. There’s a good reason you don’t remember it, though: you never placed the order in the first place!

Why Do Scammers Buy Their Own Product for Other People?

But wait a minute—why on earth are scammers buying their own products for other people? In fact, why is it even called a “scam” at all when it sounds like Christmas came early instead?

The key here is that the scammer isn’t operating out of the kindness of their own heart. In fact, they’re doing it so that they can artificially inflate their product’s score with fake reviews. And to do that, they need an authentic name and address.

Have you ever taken a look at the reviews on an Amazon product, and noticed that some of them are labeled as a “verified purchase”? That’s because the person purchased the product they’re reviewing through Amazon, and Amazon shows that off with the “verified purchase” tag.

Verified reviews have a lot more weight than non-verified ones. That’s because they’re far more likely to come from a legitimate customer who owns the product and is giving an honest review. These reviews are more reliable to customers than reviews written by robots, as the latter will spam five-star reviews in a bid to make the product more attractive.

Companies know the importance of verified five-star reviews and so they want as many reviews as possible. As such, some of them will create their own verified five-star reviews to encourage real buyers to give their products a chance.

To achieve this, the company gets a hold of some harvested names and addresses. They then make an Amazon account in that person’s name and use it to purchase one of their own products. Now that the fake account has purchased the product, the company can use it to write a gleaming, verified five-star review to boost their product ratings.

From the perspective of the company, the scam is now a done deal. However, there’s still a package on its way to an unsuspecting person, and when it arrives, it creates a lot of confusion as to where it came from.

As one of many schemes inflating ratings, buyers are learning how to spot fake Amazon reviews and making the most of tools that distinguish the real from the fake reviews.

A Past Case of a Brushing Scam

It may sound like a bizarre scam that doesn’t see any real-world use, but it’s actually common enough to see news coverage on the topic.

For example, in late 2020, the BBC reported that thousands of Americans were sent random packets of seeds through a brushing scam. What made the scam particularly worrisome was that the recipients had no idea what the seeds actually grew, which sparked warnings that nobody should attempt to plant them.

After this event, Amazon banned the sale of seeds from its website. No matter how hard the company cracks down on bad actors, however, there’s always someone still trying to trick the system.

So, watch out for anything suspicious, especially around special occasions. For example, Amazon Prime Day comes with some common scams you should be aware of.

Do Brushing Scams Use Your Money?

A Pile of One Dollar Bank Notes

It can be worrying to see random packages come through the mail because it implies that someone may be enjoying a shopping spree on your credit card. However, you need not fear.

What separates a brushing scam from any other hacking methods that break into your bank account is the person paying for the goods. While most money-oriented scams usually involve someone stealing your money, a brushing scam does not use your own funds whatsoever.

When a company initiates a brushing scam, they use their own funds to send you the item. They may have your name and address, but they typically don’t have your financial details and aren’t buying the items using your money.

Do You Have to Pay for Brushing Scam Items? Can You Keep Them?

If you are the victim of a brushing scam, you can keep the item if you like. After all, there was technically nothing wrong with the purchase—the company paid for the goods and sent them to you. It’s not that much different than someone giving you a gift through Amazon.

When you don’t know the person who sent you the item and the item was both knowingly and deliberately sent to you, it’s known as an “unsolicited good.” Countries usually have laws about these goods, and they usually say that if you get one, you can keep it.

For instance, the United States Postal Inspection Service piece on brushing scams says the following:

If you opened it and you like it, you may keep it. By law, you may keep unsolicited merchandise and are under no obligation to pay for it.

You don’t even need to give the item back to Amazon. As per Amazon guidance on reporting brushing scams:

If you receive a package that you did not order and is not a gift, report it immediately. […] You don’t need to return the item.

However, be really careful of the company trying to scam you a second time. There’s a reason why countries have laws about unsolicited goods, and it’s to protect you from a different kind of scam.

In this scam, a company will send people an item for free, particularly something consumable. Then, the company will chase up the people it sent a product to, demanding payment for the product to avoid legal action. Sometimes the person has already consumed the item and feels obligated to pay the company back for an item they never really wanted.

As such, keep an eye out for any correspondence from the company that sent you the item. They may try to trick you into thinking you need to pay for the goods they sent you, but as we covered earlier, you need not fork out money for unsolicited items.

Another common trick to look out for is fake Amazon emails with elaborate scams that can steal your money.

How to Report a Brushing Scam

If you’d like to report the scam and get one back to the scammer, you can report it to Amazon. As per Amazon’s guidance that we linked to earlier:

If you confirm that the package addressed to you wasn’t ordered by you or anyone you know, report it to Customer Service.

Provide the following information:

  • List of order IDs (at least one order is required)
  • Number of unwanted packages received
  • Photo of at least one shipping label (optional)
  • Any additional information to assist the investigation

You don’t need to return the item.

Amazon investigates reports of “brushing” and takes the appropriate action on bad actors that violate our policies. Amazon may suspend or remove selling privileges, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement.

As such, if you want to stop the packages, get in contact with your country’s Amazon customer support branch and let them know what you received. If you can, send as much proof as you can so that Amazon can track down who sent you the item and get them removed from the website.

Brush Away Those Brushing Scams

If you get a random Amazon package in the mail, you might be a victim of a brushing scam. Fortunately, brushing scams don’t use your payment details, so it’s unlikely that your bank information has been compromised. However, it’s a good idea to report it so Amazon can take action against inflated reviews.

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