What’s behind unordered Amazon packages showing up on porches?

BBB says it's a scheme designed to boost sellers' ratings

Puzzling packages are showing up on people's porches. Consumer advocates say it's part of a scheme called brushing that's sweeping Texas and the nation.

HOUSTON – It was like Christmas in July for Devon Lowe of Pearland, Texas, when random Amazon boxes began appearing on her doorstep. The first was a book on how to cut off your adult kids, and it was addressed to her husband.

“We were all having dinner, you know, it’s Sunday, and the kids were, like, are you trying to tell us something or something? It was all funny. He was like, ‘No, I didn’t order it.’ It was weird that it came in his name,” Lowe said.

It was weird enough that Lowe checked her Amazon account.

“Come to find out, we didn’t order it. It just came so we never thought anything about it, and then we saw the Facebook post where someone else had it happen,” Lowe said.

She then realized the book wasn’t the only package that had mysteriously arrived on her doorstep. There had been others too.

“It was a showerhead, random. These cans of air that you use to clean a computer, and I know I didn’t order that,” she said.

On the other side of Pearland, Kathy Mars never received a single package but was affected by the scam, nonetheless.

Late one night, Mars received an email confirming an order via her Amazon account. But it was after 11 p.m., and she hadn’t placed any orders.

“I go into my order history and there’s an order for 22 items that I would never order, ever. And they’re all under 11 cents each,” Mars said.

“Numerous things -- electronics, cables, baby items, books -- it varied. Just none of it made sense,” Mars said.

In total, the items only added up to $2.40.

But according to Leah Napoliello, with the Better Business Bureau of Houston, what the scammers wanted was much more valuable — a positive review for their product under your name.

“They somehow obtain your name, your address to get those items sent to you. Then they actually take your name and use that to create fake positive reviews in your name on sites like Amazon,” Napoliello said.

The scam is called “brushing.”

“It is just a way to fool people, other potential buyers of their merchandise into thinking that this item is more popular and well-liked than it actually is. So it’s just really a ruse,” Napoliello said.

Mars immediately called Amazon to alert them to the fraud.

But, by that time, the scammers had already gone in and started making fake reviews under her name.

“Sure enough, they all had reviews from me on all those items. Right now, looking I have over a thousand reviews on Amazon…me personally, I’ve only done about 10. So, I don’t know how that happened,” Mars said.

Napoliello said if you’ve received items you didn’t order, first go in and check your account history to verify if you actually were charged for the items.

If you were, immediately reach out to Amazon. Then, update your password.

“Change your passwords, monitor your account. Monitor your credit card statements, your bills, because you don’t want your identity to be stolen or items to be purchased in your name in the future,” Napoliello said.

The big question everyone one wants to know, of course, is can you keep the items? Well, according to the Amazon and the Federal Trade Commission, you can.

Lowe and her family didn’t ever read the book, but one of the other products came in handy.

“My son was cleaning something, his gaming system, and he said, ‘Hey, where’s that canned air?’ So he used it,” Lowe said.

KPRC 2, KSAT’s sister station in Houston, reached out to Amazon for more information about brushing. An Amazon spokesperson responded with the following statement:

“Third party sellers are prohibited from sending unsolicited packages. We take action on those who violate our policies, including withholding payments, suspending or removing selling privileges, or working with law enforcement.”

The Amazon representative also wants you to be on the lookout for any suspicious calls from people claiming to be from Amazon.