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Shipping Scam From China -- What Is 'Brushing'?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Getting something in the mail is awesome. Getting something free in the mail is even better. But getting dozens of packages containing cheap hair ties from China? Even free has its limits.

The more interesting question is why a company, or anyone for that matter, would send you the same thing for free, over and over again? It's called "brushing," and it's illegal, even in China.

Fake Sales

Forbes explains brushing through the recent experience of Pennsylvania resident Heaven McGeehan, who was getting small epackets postmarked from China "at least one a day":

Basically, a "brushing" firm somehow got hold of McGeehan's name and address -- she imagines this happened from placing legitimate orders on AliExpress, the international wing of China's Alibaba -- and then created user profiles for "her" on the e-commerce sites that they wish to have higher sales ratings and favorable reviews on. They then shop for orders via the fake account, compare prices, and mimic everything an actual customer would do, before finally making a purchase from their client's store. When delivery is confirmed, they then leave positive reviews that appear to the e-commerce platform as "verified."

The scam allows retailers to fake both sales figures and positive reviews. This is a big deal for sellers on e-commerce sites, who want to appear near the top of the site's rankings in order to boost legitimate sales.

Real People?

As Forbes notes, the scam can involve bots running programs, hackers illegally using legitimate buyer accounts, or "using the identities of real people located in foreign countries and shipping them piles of unwanted mail." And while brushing in its many forms is illegal in China and the scam probably constitutes mail fraud under U.S. laws, such international infringement can mean few consequences for the scammers, if any.

There may be little U.S. recipients can do to stem the tide of Chinese "gifts." So they may just follow your other spam mail into the trash.

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