Why some people are receiving mysterious masks in the mail

First came reports of unwanted seeds arriving in the mail from China. Now, people are reporting that they’ve received packages containing a face mask that they did not order or want.

Angela Osborne opened her mailbox the other day and found something strange inside, with her name and address on the package.

“I noticed this odd package with what appeared to be Chinese writing, and noticed the sender, and said, ‘I didn’t order anything from China,'” Osborne said.

“So I brought it in the house and peeled it back away and realized it was a face mask,” she said. “And I said, ‘that’s a little creepy.'”

Someone had sent her a single pandemic face mask — not a pack of masks, but just one blue surgical mask, probably worth 50 cents.

Osborne thought of the effort involved in shipping one face mask from China, aboard a ship, to her local post office. She figured it wasn’t just someone being nice.

“There’s no note, nothing, and all I got is a faded tracking address and some tracking numbers,” she said.

Why unexpected packages arrive

Just like with the mystery seeds, the US government thinks it may all be a marketing scam.

The FTC and Better Business Bureau call it the “brushing” scam. Chinese sellers get names and addresses — sometimes through legitimate sellers, other times from hackers. They then ship cheap items to boost their ratings on either Amazon or Alibaba, the giant Chinese retailer.

Last year, Michael Gallivan received dozens of unexpected items, from Christmas lights to phone cases. The senders then posted 5-star reviews in his name.

“They were giving themselves 5-star, glowing reviews, not just of the product but of the company themselves,” he said.

How to protect yourself

The FTC says if this happens to you:

  • Change your password at all e-commerce sites you use, including Amazon, eBay, Best Buy, etc.
  • If it arrived in an Amazon box, contact Amazon customer service and report it.

Osborne says she’s not using the free mask, saying a friend advised her to throw the mask away.

The good news is that victims of this scam aren’t losing money — but their good name is probably being used to boost a business. So change those passwords, so you don’t waste your money.

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