Amazon’s “brushing” scam

NBC, Washington:

Seventeen Amazon packages have been delivered to Catherine Mayfield’s home in Temple Hills, Maryland, since October. She didn’t order any of them. Some of the packages included cheap items, such as scissors, a foot cushion and an eyebrow trimmer. Others contained pricier items, like a steam iron.

So what’s going on? One likely possibility: Mayfield is a victim of what’s called a “brushing” scam.


Sellers do this to boost their ratings. They make a fake account using a real name and address they can easily find online. The seller buys the product from themselves and sends it to the address.

“In order for you to have a validated purchase so that your rating carries more weight, they actually have to ship something,” said Hamerstone. The seller then writes a fake review and gives themselves five stars.

So when you see those “verified purchaser” labels on Amazon reviews, dig a little deeper. When I buy something on Amazon, I start by looking at the percentage of 1-star reviews. Any percentage above 6% gives me pause, no matter how many 5-star ratings a product has. I read those 1-star ratings. Often there’s a clue there, a red flag that goes beyond, “dead on arrival” (bad units happen with all manufactured goods), something on the order of “this product was shoddily made, and here’s why I say that”.

Unfortunately for those receiving these packages, there’s really nothing they can do about it except to just wait for it to stop. It’s just too much for sites like Amazon to track these sellers down.

And that’s where we differ. Amazon created this process. Surely they could tweak their system so verified purchases are actually “verified”. Make it easy to report unordered packages, then have Amazon note on the product pages that the product has an active brushing scam.

UPDATE: Check out the site Fakespot. Copy the link to an Amazon product you are looking at and paste it in the Fakespot search field (upper left of the page). Fakespot will tell you all sorts of things about that product and, perhaps, help you avoid buying a dud.

There’s also a Chrome extension, if Chrome is your thing. No Safari extension, sadly. [H/T, Kirk McElhearn]