Amazon brushing scam: what is it and how widespread is it?

·3 min read
Sydney, Australia - 2020-10-17 Amazon prime boxes and envelopes delivered to a front door of residential building.
The Amazon brushing scam may have targeted more than one million Britons. (Getty)

Almost 90% of UK shoppers use Amazon according to market research firm Mintel, and around 70% of UK customers visit the online retailer at least once a month. 

But the online marketplace has fallen victim to a scam that sees unwanted items delivered to front doors across Britain, leaving it open to abuse and inaccurate product ratings.

The Amazon 'brushing scam' is thought to have already targeted more than a million households in Britain, sending unwanted items to people in an attempt to push sellers up the rankings.

These are often small, cheap-to-ship items sent from China.

A survey undertaken by consumer magazine Which? revealed that 4% of respondents said they or someone in their household had 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 neighbour.

Unboxing my delivery
Shoppers receiving items they haven't ordered are encouraged to report them to Amazon. (Getty)

What is 'brushing'?

Brushing is a marketing scam organised by Amazon Marketplace sellers, often based in China, to artificially boost sales volumes and product reviews. 

They send cheap-to-ship items to unwitting households in the hope they will review them and push up their ranking on Amazon. The deliveries are counted as sales which artificially inflates a seller's numbers. 

Items received have ranged from phone chargers and cases to feather dusters, WiFi routers, and even fairy lights.

Why do sellers do it?

Higher sales volumes mean a product appears further up in search listings. Which? says that as people rarely look past the first one or two pages of a search the positioning of a product is vital. 

Sellers may also benefit from extra reviews, or even create false ones for items received by fake accounts.

How widespread is the brushing scam?

The nationally representative Which? survey questioned 1,839 people then inflated the numbers accordingly.  

The results suggested that up to 1.1 million households may have been targets of brushing.

A a marketplace logistics expert based in Shenzhen, China, said that brushing is widespread and ‘systematic’.

He told the report: "Brushing has been going on for at least a decade. The only reason it has now gone wild is because e-commerce has been accelerating very rapidly, especially because of the pandemic.

Can brushing compromise your data?

Amazon encourages victims to report any items they receive but says that data is not at risk. However, an investigation by Hacked.com in 2020 showed that data belonging to targeted households may have been leaked or compromised. 

They advise victims to immediately change their Amazon password and cancel credit cards. If someone has used the same password on Amazon for other online accounts, they should change those too.

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Some brushing scammers may take the fraud a step further and create fake accounts in the targets' names, then use them to leave fake five star reviews.

Having unsolicited packages arrive at a house on a regular basis can unnerve victims, and Which? reported several people feeling powerless to stop the unwanted intrusion.

Watch: Who are 'Insulate Britain'?

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