Understanding Brushing Scams: USPS Issues a Warning

October 11, 2023 | Modified: October 18, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of online scams, a new and disturbing trend has emerged that goes by ‘brushing.’ While this term may sound harmless or even amusing, it is anything but. Brushing scams pose a significant threat to individuals and their personal information. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has issued a warning to shed light on this deceptive practice, urging the public to be vigilant and informed. This article will explain what brushing scams are, how they work, and, most importantly, how to protect yourself from falling victim to this fraudulent practice.

What is a Brushing Scam?

Understanding brushing scams is important. Brushing is a deceptive tactic employed by unscrupulous online sellers to boost their product ratings on e-commerce platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart, among others. The idea behind this scam is to create the illusion of customer satisfaction by posting fake positive reviews. While this may not seem harmful initially, brushing scams have far-reaching consequences.

Here’s how it typically works: The scammer identifies a target, often an unsuspecting online shopper who has recently made a legitimate purchase on a reputable e-commerce platform. Once they have the victim’s name, address, and order details, they use this information to create fake accounts on the platform. Soon, unordered merchandise will begin showing up on the target’s doorstep, after which fake accounts leave glowing reviews for the scammer’s products, artificially boosting their ratings.

The scam serves a dual purpose. First, it misleads potential buyers into believing the product is of high quality, prompting them to make a purchase. Second, it helps the seller to climb the platform’s rankings, increasing their visibility and sales potential. All of this is done without the victim’s knowledge or consent.

USPS Issues a Warning

The USPS, as a federal agency responsible for mail delivery and consumer protection, has noticed the brushing scam. In a recent advisory, they highlighted the importance of being aware of this emerging threat and taking necessary precautions to prevent falling victim to it. The agency emphasizes that it’s vital to safeguard personal information and understand how brushing scams can compromise your privacy.

Steps to Prevent Becoming a Victim of ‘Brushing’ Scams

  1. Monitor Your Online Shopping Activity: One of the most crucial steps in preventing ‘brushing’ scams is to be vigilant about your online shopping history. Keep track of the orders you place and the personal information you provide. Regularly review your online shopping accounts for any suspicious activity.
  2. Use Strong Passwords: Secure your online shopping accounts with strong, unique passwords. Avoid using easily guessable information like birthdates, names, or common words. Consider using a password manager to help you create and store complex passwords.
  3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication: Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for your online shopping accounts whenever possible. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to enter a code sent to your mobile device or email to access your account.
  4. Check for Unauthorized Accounts: Regularly check the e-commerce platforms you use to see if any accounts are associated with your name, email address, or shipping address that you did not create. Contact the platform’s customer support to report and resolve the issue if you find any.
  5. Beware of Unsolicited Packages: Be cautious if you receive packages you did not order. It could be a sign that someone has used your information for ‘brushing’ scams. Do not open the package, and contact the platform, such as Amazon or eBay, to report the unsolicited delivery.
  6. Review Your Privacy Settings: Review the privacy settings on your online shopping accounts. Ensure that your personal information, such as your shipping address, is not set to public or visible to everyone. Limit the information available to potential scammers.
  7. Educate Yourself About Platform Policies: Familiarize yourself with the policies and guidelines of your e-commerce platforms. Understand how they handle issues related to fake reviews and deceptive practices. If you encounter a brushing scam, report it to the platform for investigation.
  8. Be Cautious About Sharing Personal Information: Avoid sharing personal information unnecessarily. When making online purchases, provide only the information required for the transaction. Be cautious about sharing additional details, especially in response to unsolicited requests.
  9. Regularly Check Your Credit Reports: Keeping an eye on your credit reports can help you spot any unusual activity or identity theft. You can request free annual credit reports from the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
  10. Report Suspicious Activity: If you suspect you have fallen victim to a brushing scam or any other form of online fraud, report it to the appropriate authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or your local law enforcement agency.

Protect Yourself from Brushing Scams

Brushing scams represent a new and troubling dimension of online fraud, where scammers use personal information to create fake reviews, thereby deceiving both consumers and e-commerce platforms. In response to this growing threat, the USPS has issued a warning, urging individuals to be vigilant and take proactive measures to protect themselves.

You can reduce the risk of becoming a victim by staying informed about the workings of brushing scams and following the preventative steps outlined in this article. Safeguarding your personal information, maintaining strong online security practices, and reporting any suspicious activity is essential in the battle against these deceptive practices. In an online world where privacy and security are paramount, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and resilient against the ever-evolving tactics of cybercriminals.

Learn more about protecting yourself from scams by reading the Benchmark FCU blog article “Avoid Getting Baited by a Text Scam.” 

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