The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office and others are warning consumers about unsolicited packages being delivered from mailing addresses in China with unknown seed types inside.
The Sheriff’s Office, in a Facebook post on Tuesday, said some Livingston County residents had received such packages in the past week.
Similar packages have been received in other states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services said Tuesday it is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies and a handful of state agriculture departments that have received questions from recipients about the packets. USDA is collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents to determine if there is a threat from a possible invasive species or contagion.
“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam,’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the agency said.
The state Department of Agriculture and Markets has also issued a warning about the unsolicited seed packages.
The packages are marked as containing jewelry or other merchandise, but actually contain unlabeled plant seeds, state Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said in a news release.
The Sheriff’s Office advises residents not to open one of these packages. If the package has been opened, they are advised to place it inside a resealable bag.
“Please do not throw them away of plant them,” the Sheriff’s Office said in its Facebook post.
Instead, call the Sheriff’s Office at (585) 243-7100 and a deputy will respond to retrieve the package, which will be sent to the USDA for testing.
The state Department of Agriculture also urged people who receive the seeds to not plant or handle the seeds. The agriculture department advised storing the seeds safely in a place that children and pets cannot access and email the USDA immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions.
The email should include the recipient’s full name and telephone numbers, photos of the package, and any other relevant information.
Seeds imported into the United States are rigorously tested to ensure quality and prevent introduction of invasive species, insects and diseases, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Unidentified seeds may become the source of widespread damage. Invasive species can overrun farmland and compete with crops for water and nutrients. Some are accidentally introduced with seeds hitching a ride on other plants, and some are introduced intentionally.
The Washington state Agriculture Department identified the threat it sees in the seed packets in a statement issued Friday. Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota and Nevada agricultural agencies also reported that similar packets had been delivered to residents.
“Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock,” said the Washington state Agriculture Department statement.
The department urged people not to open the packets and not to plant the seeds.
Barbara Glenn, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, laid of her organization’s concerns in a statement Monday: “NASDA is working closely with USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and the Department of Homeland Security ot understand the origin of these unsolicited seeds from China that have entered out country illegally.”
The Better Business Bureau, in a separate news release about the mysterious seed packages, also advised people to check their personal information.
“The package may be a sign that your personal information has been compromised,” the BBB said in a news release.
The BBB advised changing passwords and keeping a close eye on individual credit reports, bank accounts and credit card bills.
The BBB said the seed packages may be a new iteration of a scam known as “brushing,” where businesses will send their merchandise to your home in order to post a fake, positive review of their product.
In a “brushing” scam, the scammer goes online to find real addresses of real people and create fake accounts. The scammer then mails the unsuspecting people an actual product - or something completely unrelated to what they’re selling. After the tracking system confirms the delivery, the scammer can then leave a “verified” review in the recipient’s name.
“Not only do they have one more stellar review, they have also falsely inflated their sales to look more successful than they are,” the BBB said in a news release.
Includes reporting from CQ-Roll Call via Tribune News Service.