Mystery packages are showing up at homes all over the country that the recipients didn't order.
The free items are part of a scam.
Anne Shannon, an anchor and reporter at sister station WGAL, was a victim of the scam and learned her personal information was likely compromised.
She received several packages over the span of a few weeks, including a microphone, a Christmas ornament and a necklace.
She was the victim of a scam called brushing. It's a way to build up e-commerce profiles.
“The more activity you have, the higher up your status is and the higher your status, the higher up you are in the listing,” said Terrill Frantz, a cybersecurity expert at Harrisburg University.
Frantz said scammers do that by creating false sales. The scammers used Anne’s name and account and sent the products to her home address.
Frantz said companies are also looking for positive reviews.
Days after Anne received the items, a review that she didn’t write showed up with her name.
“You should be very concerned because that means, essentially, they have your password,” Frantz said.
Anne changed her password, reached out to Amazon and attempted to close her account.
Then she received an alert about another package. This time, it was sent to an Amazon locker at a gas station.
Anne finally shut down her account after several phone calls and emails.
“They know my name. They know my password. They know where I live. Should this freak me out?” Anne said.
“Yes. The bad guys do have your information. Period,” Frantz said.
While the scammers did get Anne’s information, they didn’t get her money. She wasn’t charged for any of the products. By law, she can keep them.
Brushing scams are taking off
During the coronavirus pandemic, online shopping has become the consumer’s link to the outside world for whatever they need. Online sales are expected to increase by nearly 60% during 2020.
Scammers are taking notice, and that's why brushing scams have increased.
Any consumers reading potentially fake reviews online could buy the product and put profits in the pocket of these sellers.
Amazon is aware of these brushing scams and issued this statement: "Third-party sellers are prohibited from sending unsolicited packages to customers and we take action on those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or removing selling privileges, or working with law enforcement."
Who is behind brushing scams?
Hackers steal personal information and sell it online in places like the dark web.
Shady third-party retailers can buy that information and use it to send packages to victims, then write reviews in their name.
Some companies may be legitimate, and others may be nonexistent.
Three of the companies that sent merchandise to Anne have addresses in China.
Almost all of the reviews for these companies, including one posted under Anne’s name, are five-star reviews. None of the reviews are more than two months old.
Personal security is main concern
Personal security is the main concern of consumers like Anne who have become victims of the brushing scam.
Those consumers don’t know how the senders obtained their names, addresses and other personal information.
The information could have been stolen and sold to shady businesses selling items online.