The latest research from Which? has revealed that more than one million households in the UK may have received mystery Amazon parcels, in a scam known as ‘brushing’.
To examine the scam, consumer safety charity Which? surveyed 1,839 adults in the UK between August 13 and August 17, 2021. The survey found that 4% of respondents said they or someone in their household received a mystery Amazon package at their home address that they did not order, was not sent by a known person and was not taken in for a neighbor. Once this sample percentage is scaled up to the UK population, the data indicates that 1.1 million UK households could have been targets of brushing. Of the respondents in the survey who received a mystery Amazon parcel that they did not order, six in 10 (63%) said they kept them, while one in five (18%) threw them away and one in six (16%) gave them away. One customer received 50 parcels in total between October 2020 and May 2021, including a Bluetooth wireless karaoke microphone for children, a webcam, face masks and a glass teapot.
As Amazon’s competitive search ranking system for products favors items with high sales volumes and good reviews, sellers send unsolicited parcels to increase their rankings. Sellers do this by obtaining personal information (such as name and address) via publicly available sources – for example, where a company sells on customer data – or potentially from Amazon itself via invoices on its seller platform for merchants. As a result of the scam, consumers’ primary concerns around this scam include the environmental impact caused by these unwanted items, the possibility of being unfairly charged and how their personal details were found.
David Li, director of Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, said that ‘brushing’ was simply seen as “a cost of doing business” for some sellers. He said, “In the Amazon universe, brushing is just a cost of doing business very similar to buying ads or getting an ‘Amazon certified’ logo. Generally, it’s a marketing expense. I wouldn’t be surprised by the figure. The competition is intensive in cross border e-commerce.”
An Amazon spokesperson 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.
“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 organizations 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.”