Recently, people around the United States started receiving mysterious packages from China that they hadn't ordered. My family received one of them in the Utica area and we decided to open it up to see exactly what was inside.

Photo by B Keeler

 

We brought it outside to my wife's garden bench and wore gloves just to be safe. The bag was a very thin postal package and was addressed to a member of the family. It said the contents inside included a "wire connector" with a weight of 0.020 KG. It also said there were 200 pieces of whatever was inside.

Photo by B Keeler

We carefully cut open the package and emptied the contents into a plastic paint tray liner. A small plastic zip lock bag fell out.

Photo by B Keeler

The baggy was filled with tiny brownish-red seeds, a bit smaller than a sesame seed. We didn't open the baggy, but it looked like there could easily be 200 of them (or many more) in the package.

So what are they?

Photo by B Keeler

Actually, we don't know for sure, but similar packages are being mailed all over the United States and they appear to be coming from China. According to the USDA in Albany, the shipment appears to be part of a scam.

"At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales," said Erich Glasgow, PPQ Supervisor with the USDA, in an automated email response. "USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment."

Here's how a "brushing scam" would work. People who have order online ultimately end up being part of a mailing list. A company looking to increase their online credibility sent something of low value to several people and once it's delivered, it's considered a verified delivery. Then, the nefarious company creates fake online positive reviews and they look authentic. Remember how the package label said there were wire connectors inside? That might be the item they're looking for a positive review on. Our search came up with no results of any such reviews.

If you receive the package with seeds, the USDA is urging people not to plant them or open the packages. Instead, they're asking that you mail the package to them.

Follow these instructions:

If you are a resident of New York State, please ensure the seed package is sealed and then mail the seeds, the original packaging, your contact information, and any additional details you believe are relevant, to:

USDA APHIS PPQ

Attn: Erich Glasgow

230-59 Int’l Airport Center Blvd

Suite 100, Room 109, Bldg. C

Jamaica, NY  11413

If you live outside of New York please use the link below to identify the appropriate individual in your state to whom you should report the issue. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sa-07/seeds-china