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People across the US lately have been receiving mysterious, empty packages in the mail — and experts are blaming shenanigans by third-party merchants on Amazon, The Post has learned.
A flurry of yellow, padded envelopes have landed in residential mailboxes across more than 30 states over the past several weeks, according to Safely HQ. The consumer-reporting website’s founder Patrick Quade estimates the mystery packages could number as high as 10,000.
While recipients mainly have been puzzled, some have expressed alarm, fretting that their names and addresses may have been leaked in a data breach. Some have braced for the worst, speculating that the apparently empty packages might contain something sinister and invisible.
“I got outside and ripped the top of the package open and held it away from my face and pinched it open to see no contents inside,” one rattled recipient in Crawfordville, Fla., wrote on Safely HQ. “I left it outside and I’m about to dispose of it in the trash receptacle.”
Many of the empty packages have listed the sender as an “online seller” at the address of an Amazon warehouse facility — in several cases 188 South Mountain House Parkway in the San Francisco Bay-area suburb of Tracy, Calif. While that is the address of a legitimate Amazon facility, the packages in question weren’t mailed from them, company representatives told The Post.
Instead, Amazon officials suggested that the situation had all the hallmarks of a known scam called “brushing,” in which third-party merchants create fake transactions on the site — complete with tracking numbers and confirmations that the packages have been received.
After spending a modest outlay on the phantom mailers — maybe $3 or $4 each — the rogue sellers then create phony customer reviews for little-known products they are trying to sell, said James Thomson, a former Amazon executive who is now a consultant to online sellers.
“If you confirm that the package addressed to you wasn’t ordered by you or anyone you know, report the package online by going to the Report Unwanted Package form,” Amazon spokesman Sam Stephenson said. “Amazon investigates these reports and takes action when we find bad actors that violate our policies.”
According to Fakespot, a service that detects fake reviews, about 42% of Amazon reviews were not written by actual customers. The federal government has expressed concerns about the growing number of fake reviews on e-commerce sites, with the Federal Trade Commission vowing to fine Amazon and others if they don’t remove them.
In February, a former Amazon consultant was sentenced to 10 months in prison and a $50,000 fine for participating in a scheme to bribe Amazon employees and manipulate the company’s third-party marketplace, the Justice Department said. The case is ongoing, with five other defendants still facing prosecution.
Signs of the tactic are reemerging as Amazon sellers gear up for the holiday shopping season, jockeying for the highest placement on the marketplace – and after Amazon clamped down on bad actors who submitted fake shipping data earlier this summer, according to Chris McCabe, also a former Amazon employee who is now an e-commerce consultant.
“Amazon is cracking down on sellers who are loading fake tracking information on orders,” McCabe said, adding that the empty envelopes are another example of how people are “gaming Amazon and its algorithms.”
Recipients likely ended up on the list as past customers of the seller, he said. It’s also possible the seller simply chose their names and addresses randomly from public records. In some cases, Amazon insiders may have sold Amazon customer information to sellers, McCabe said, citing the Justice Department’s case.
For those who receive packages they didn’t order, the Better Business Bureau advises they change their online account passwords and keep a close eye on credit card statements and credit reports as it’s possible their personal information has been compromised.
Two years ago, a suspected brushing scam caught the attention of the Department of Agriculture after people received mysterious packages of seeds in the mail that appeared to be from China. The government warned consumers not to plant the seeds, saying they could introduce an invasive species to the US. The Chinese government denied that the seeds came from China.
Submit Δdocument.getElementById( “ak_js_1” ).setAttribute( “value”, ( new Date() ).getTime() ); Thanks for contacting us. We've received your submission. People across the US lately have been receiving mysterious, empty packages in the mail — and experts are blaming shenanigans by third-party merchants on Amazon, The Post has learned.A flurry of yellow, padded envelopes have landed in […]