Delawareans have told the state Department of Agriculture that they have received unsolicited packages of seeds from China.
The shipments are part of what officials say is a nationwide – and perhaps global – scam called brushing.
In brushing scams, “shippers send out low-cost items at their own expense in order to rank higher on e-commerce sites,” the agriculture department says. “Brushing helps the seller create a more legitimate appearance to their profiles.”
Department spokeswoman Stacey Hofmann says people in 11 states so far have received similar mysterious packages. Some also have jewelry, earbuds, toys or other inexpensive items.
The Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance Program, an effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is collecting information about the packages. Its website says complaints can emailed to SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov or called into its Smuggling Hotline at 800-877-3835. The best bet is email, since the mailbox to the hotline was full on Monday afternoon.
The Delaware department’s Facebook page generated intense and sometimes frustrated discussion about the problem. Complaints included not receiving acknowledgment of their reports and being turned away from trying to hand over the seeds.
“We would like you to bring all the seeds” to the department at 2320 S. du Pont Highway, Camden, Hofmann wrote on Facebook.
Recipients should leave everything inside the package to help investigators trace the origin, the state said.
Recipients are also asked to not plant the seeds, because they could be invasive. Throwing them away is also bad, people on Facebook said, because the seeds are then released into the environment.
Most seeds are in white pouches displaying Chinese lettering and the words “China Post,” though photos released by the Ohio Department of Agriculture show seeds in yellow envelopes, The New York Times reports.
The packets have generated alerts in in Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia, Washington state and Utah, reports the Times.
Snopes.com said residents of the United Kingdom have also received unordered seeds.