U.S. Department of Agriculture officials warned Americans not to open suspicious and unsolicited packages from China, as they contain unidentified seeds, ABC News reported. And, of course, officials warn even more explicitly not to plant those seeds.
Across the country, people have received nondescript packages that wouldn't otherwise raise an eyebrow. They're plastic, light gray, with a return address from Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, China. A label indicates that they supposedly contain jewelry or earrings.
Instead, however, it is a clear plastic bag of unidentified seeds.
"Do not plant seeds from unknown origins," the USDA warned in a statement.
Indeed, strict international covenants forbid the transport or mailing of seeds across international lines for a variety of reasons, including preventing the introduction of invasive species or otherwise planting something that could prove detrimental to local agriculture.
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that Chinese law forbids mailing seeds out of the country. Further, he said that these packages violate the law in another way besides the fact that they contain seeds: the mailing labels are forged.
"After confirming with China Post, the China Post face-to-face slips on this batch of mails are forged, and there are many errors in the layout of the face-to-face slips and information items. China Post has negotiated with U.S. Post to return these fake mails to China for investigation," Wenbin said.
So what's going on?
According to the USDA, it appears to be a common mail scam.
"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.
As WNWO reported, this type of scam inflates a product's visibility in an online marketplace, such as Amazon, by artificially showing product moving from place to place, even though the product is usually worthless and the recipient didn't order it.
Indeed, the current manifestation of the Chinese brushing scam isn't just limited to seeds. As the Whitehouse, Ohio, police department noted in a Facebook post, other recipients have received socks or worthless trinkets.
The USDA urged anyone who receives such a package to not open it and to contact their state's plant regulatory official or the plant health director of their state's animal and plant health inspection service.
"Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your state department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions," officials said.