US: Alert for seeds allegedly from China 0:45
(CNN) - All 50 states in the United States have issued warnings about mysterious and unsolicited seed packets that people across the country have received in the mail in recent weeks.
The packages appear to come from China, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Photos shared by state agriculture departments show packages marked with tags from the China Post, which operates China's official postal service. Some of the labels also indicate that the packages contain jewelry, although inside there is usually a package of seeds in clear plastic packaging.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing on Tuesday that the address labels were forged and that the China Post has asked the USPS to send those packages to China for investigation.
USPS said in a statement that it was aware of the emails and is in consultation with federal, state and local partners. The agency declined to provide further details.
It is not exactly clear who is behind the packages or what their intention is, but the main theory is that they are part of a "planing scam", when outside vendors send people items they did not order and write laudatory comments on their Name.
"At this time, we have no evidence to indicate that this is more than just a 'brushing scam' where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to increase sales," the USDA said. in a statement Tuesday.
The USDA said its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) was investigating the situation in conjunction with the Department of Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies and state departments of agriculture.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also investigating similar reports from its residents.
READ : US warns people of suspicious seed packages that appear to be from China
Officials think it could be part of a 'planing scam'
Officials have not confirmed with certainty whether these packages are an example of "brushing." But it appears to be a likely possibility given that most recipients say they did not order the items, said Katherine Hutt, communications director for the Better Business Bureau.
"When people get a package they didn't order, that's one of the first things that we suspect," Hutt told CNN.
Brushing is usually done by outside sellers on Amazon, Ebay, Etsy or other e-commerce platforms looking to boost sales through positive reviews, Hutt explained. Those platforms generally only accept reviews for completed orders, so sellers will send unsolicited items to recipients and use their names to pose as satisfied customers and send fake and complimentary comments on their behalf.
Those comments could be for any product, regardless of which item the recipient actually received. That could be why some of the packages that people have received in the past few weeks have been labeled as containing jewelry despite containing seeds, Hutt said. It happens that the seeds are light and probably cheaper to send.
If you're the target of a planing scam, that doesn't necessarily mean your personal information has been compromised beyond your name and address, Hutt said. And in the case of these seed packets, so far there has been no report or evidence indicating that people have been hacked.US: Alert for seeds allegedly from China 0:45
What you should do if you receive a package
If you received one of these packages, this is what the USDA and Better Business Bureau recommend you do:
- Contact your state plant regulatory official or APHIS state plant health director. You can find that information here and here, respectively.
- Keep the packaging and shipping label intact. The USDA requests that people keep the packages until they receive further instructions from the authorities.
- Do not open the seed packet or sow. At this time, its origins are unknown. The USDA plans to test the contents of the packages to determine if they present any agricultural or environmental risks.
- Do not dispose of them in the trash. They could end up in a landfill, where they could take root.
- Make sure that your personal information has not been compromised. "Brush scams" could indicate that someone has obtained your personal data. Check your bank statements, credit reports, and credit card bills periodically to make sure nothing bad happens.
- Check USDA and its state agencies for updates. These are the warnings of each state: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Dakota South, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.