Amazon brushing scam UK: how to spot parcel con - and what to do if you receive a mystery package

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Goods from beauty products to tech equipment have been sent out by third party sellers to more than a million households in the UK

Households across the UK are being warned about a new scam which sees mystery Amazon parcels delivered to their doorsteps.

More than a million households across the country may have fallen victim to the scam - known as "brushing" - after receiving unordered items.

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The goods, which range from beauty products and children’s toys to tech equipment and medical gloves, are sent out to boost the rankings of third party sellers.

Here’s all you need to know about the Amazon ‘brushing’ scam, how to spot one and what to do if you receive a mystery item to your doorstep that you didn’t order.

What is the Amazon brushing scam?

The warning has come from Which? after the consumer group expressed concern at the number of households reporting receiving a mystery Amazon parcel.

These deliveries were made to the recipients’ home address, were items not ordered by the people living there and were sent by an unknown person.

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Which? is of the opinion third-party sellers are exploiting Amazon’s highly competitive search ranking system for products by sending items to unsuspecting people.

The sellers then falsely log it as a genuine purchase to boost their ranking, with the Amazon algorithm favouring items with high sales volumes and good reviews.

Which? surveyed 1,839 UK adults between 13-17 August 2021 and found that 4% of respondents said they or someone in their household had received a mystery Amazon package.

The percentage scaled up nationally is an estimated 1.1 million people.

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Of the survey’s respondents who received a mystery Amazon parcel, 63% said they kept them, 28% threw them away and 16% gave them away.

How to spot an Amazon brushing parcel

Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of what those in your household have ordered from Amazon, especially if more than one person uses the service.

However, it is always best to check with everyone when a parcel is delivered and if there is uncertainty then always check your recent orders through your Amazon account.

There have been reports of items such as magnetic eyelashes, eyelash serum, toys for pets and children, Bluetooth accessories, an iPhone case, a Frisbee and medical gloves delivered.

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Some sellers take the scam a step further by creating a fake Amazon account linked to the recipient’s address to “purchase” the item themselves and then leave a positive fake review.

Which? said it had heard from victims who had been inundated with items, from cheap electronics to beauty products, that they knew nothing about turning up at their door.

The scam raised question marks over how their personal details were found as well as the environmental impact of the unwanted items.

Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha said: “Consumers should be able to trust that the popularity and reviews of products they are buying online are genuine, so it is troubling that third-party sellers appear to be using brushing scams to game Amazon Marketplace.

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“Amazon needs to do more to thoroughly investigate instances of brushing scams and take strong action against sellers that are attempting to mislead consumers.”

What should I do if I receive a mystery Amazon parcel?

The number one reason why people don’t report scams is due to embarrassment for having been the victim of one - but you are not alone.

Figures published by watchdog Which? show that more than a million households are likely to have received a mystery Amazon package that was not ordered.

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Items might not always be to the highest finish, with safety and security issues being found with some electronic items, so it is advised that the items is disposed of.

If you want to keep the item or donate then make absolutely sure it is safe before doing so.

Amazon said: “Orchestrated by bad actors who procure names and addresses from various external sources, ‘brushing’ is a scheme affecting all online marketplaces.

“We estimate that less than 0.001% of Amazon orders are impacted by brushing as Amazon has robust processes in place to prevent abuse from impacting our reviews, search rankings and other customer experiences.

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“We will never stop improving the sophistication of abuse prevention in our store, and we will continue to take the appropriate enforcement actions, including support for law enforcement organisations in their efforts to hold bad actors accountable. We strongly encourage those who have received unsolicited packages to report them to our customer services team so that we can investigate fully and take the appropriate actions.”

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