What Is A Brushing Scam (And How Do I Avoid It)?

Use our guide to learn about what brushing scams are, what you should look out for, and how to avoid them.
By Mike Parker
Updated Jul 14, 2022
Boxes delivered to a proch as part of a brushing scam
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Digital identity protection is becoming more and more important in today’s digital age. 

We all know someone who has fallen victim to an online scam, so it’s crucial that you stay aware of the risks when you’re shopping on Amazon, Etsy, or eBay.

One annoying scam that many people fall for is a brushing scam. If you’ve ever received an unsolicited package on your doorstep, you might have been a victim of it, too.

This article will cover what a brushing scam is, how it works, why it can cost you money, and how to avoid it.

What Is a Brushing Scam?

A brushing scam is a deceitful technique used by e-commerce sellers to boost their sales figures and potentially get positive online reviews.

If you’ve ever received a package that you didn’t order or free stuff in the post, you might be a victim of a brushing scam. People or “bad actors” find and use your information to create a fake account on an e-commerce platform and then place an order.

In some cases, the scammers then become verified buyers and create fake reviews that will increase the seller's rating and help them generate real sales.

A person who is receiving a package as part of a brushing scam.

Source: Pexels

How Does a Brushing Scam Work?

The way that brushing scams work is usually through stealing a person’s identity and then using it to place orders on e-commerce platforms.

For example, let’s say an older person who isn’t tech-savvy enters their information on a website that steals it.

The owners of the website then sell the information to e-commerce sellers to use this information with the understanding that:

1) They will be able to get them ratings.

2)  They’ll write positive online reviews for their products.

3) They’ll move them to the top of e-commerce platform searches.

4) They will help them get other people to buy their products and increase sales numbers.

As you can probably tell, this type of scam can work extremely well for businesses that want to boost their sales quickly. However, if you’re on the receiving end, it can be extremely annoying.

A scammer stealing information from a persons computer.

Source: Pexels

How Do Scammers Get Your Information?

There are multiple ways in which people leave their personal data exposed online and scammers are becoming increasingly good at finding ways to get hold of people’s personal information. 

Here are some of the most popular methods they use.

Publicly accessible databases: Sometimes hackers can find your information by doing a search on Google or by accessing publicly available records.

Stolen through a data breach: There have been multiple cases of hackers exploiting weaknesses in website databases and stealing personal information from online accounts.

Stealing your information through a personal hack: If you open or download from a website that has a virus on it, hackers can steal your information in a number of different ways. 

Key Point: Is Your Personal Information Secure on Major Websites?

The most memorable data breach in recent history has been Facebook's where 533 million people’s personal information was stolen by a group of hackers.

However, they didn’t hack anything or break into Facebook's databases. They used crawlers to pull personal information from publicly available pages.

This incident highlights the importance of keeping personal information secure and not sharing it with every website you visit.

A box about to be sent to a victim of a brushing scam.

Source: Pexels

How Brushing Schemes Can Cost You Money

While brushing scams may seem more like an inconvenience than anything else and some people may think “Hey, free stuff!”, they do have the potential to cost you money.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new BBQ online and come across a product that has hundreds of great reviews and costs half of what you’re expecting to pay.

You purchase the item and wait for it to arrive. Once it does, you can see that it’s made from inferior materials and it won’t last the summer.

In this case, the third-party sellers used a brushing scam to artificially increase the rating of their product. This can lead to buyers paying for products that are 1 star but rated as 5 stars.

This is the dangerous or damaging side of brushing scams—they distort reviews and quality ratings. It also means that your personal information is vulnerable and scammers have a better chance of getting access to your bank accounts, credit reports, and other sensitive information, too.

Key Point: Can You Keep the Items?

Yes, you are allowed to keep the package if it is addressed to you and the seller cannot charge you anything for it.

However, keep in mind that honest sellers sometimes make mistakes. You'll need to make sure that the item is in fact a brushing scam.

While you’re under no obligation to return the parcel, it may be the right thing to do if there is a return address and a reputable seller contacts you to explain the situation.

A man on the phone trying to return a package he received as part of a brushing scam.

Source: Pexels

Tips to Avoid and Deal with Brushing Scams

If you’re worried about brushing schemes, here are some simple steps to follow to avoid them:

  1. Use digital identity protection software: These are programs that are designed to protect you from multiple types of scams and give you complete online protection. Choose a program that is reliable, tested, and can handle any type of threat or attack. Our choice is AURA, one of the leading digital identity protection programs you can get in 2022.

  2. Regularly update your online passwords: This may seem like a no-brainer, but updating your account passwords on various shopping websites can help protect your personal information from scammers and hackers. Be sure that you keep this information secure and make sure you change your account passwords at least once every two months.

  3. Set up banking and fraud notifications on your phone: If you haven’t yet, setting up notifications from your bank can alert you to unauthorized payments and fraud. If you react faster, you may be able to reverse charge your account and get your money back.

  4. Check your previous bank statements: Keep an eye out for suspicious transactions and make sure that there aren’t any money transfers you were unaware of.  

  5. Don’t click on suspicious links (no matter what): Even if you get a text message from a number that you know, never click on the link unless you are 100% certain that it is legitimate. Hackers can use this technique to access personal information on phones, laptops, or tablets.

  6. Report suspicious activity: As soon as you notice a suspicious transaction on any of your online shopping accounts, notify the platform and your bank. They will advise you on what you need to do to secure your accounts and reverse any payments that may have been made. 

  7. Enable two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication is an added layer of security for logging in to accounts. Enabling it will make it extremely difficult for hackers and scammers to access your personal information or accounts, as they will need to access another device you own to do so. Most online platforms offer this feature.

A woman dealing with a brushing scam.

Source: Pexels

If you’ve become a victim of a brushing scam, you’ll need to take action. Here are some concrete steps you can take to minimize the impact of a brushing scam. 1) Contact the e-commerce platform immediately to report the scam: Make sure that you tell them the third-party seller’s name, the product, and the date when you received the package. 2) Update your passwords immediately: If someone has access to your online marketplace accounts, the fastest way to prevent them from performing more scams with your information is to change all your passwords to your online accounts.

3) Use a digital identity protection program: Signing up for a top-notch data protection program can make digital identity protection effortless. The best programs have features for a number of different online activities and you can even buy group packages to protect your family or your business. 

Why You Should Care about Brushing Scams

If you’ve received a package that you never ordered, you should be concerned about it. This means that someone on the web has your personal information.

This is the first step in falling victim to other scams or fraud, because you can now be targeted by other groups.

You may be more vulnerable to:

Credit card fraud: There are cases where people have successfully used other people’s personal information to deceive a credit card provider into handing out more sensitive information like credit reports, PIN numbers, and bank account details.

Social hacking: Scammers will have an insight into your life and can pose as a representative of a company to get you to transfer money, make payments, and process fraudulent “refunds”.

More attacks: Hackers and scamming syndicates usually sell user data to other people, so the fact your information is out there is not a good thing.

Our Verdict on Brushing Scams

Brushing scams can be a nuisance to deal with, but there are ways you can protect yourself against fraudulent activities like these.

Using a good digital identity protection program and remaining vigilant online can prevent bad actors and hackers on the dark web from getting your information and using it in a brushing scam.

If you’re a victim of a brushing scam, take action immediately to notify the online platform about this and check to see if there have been any fraudulent transactions on your online account, credit card, or bank account.

A person researching FAQs about brushing scams.

Source: Pexels

FAQs about Brushing Scams

What's the point of brushing scams?

The aim of brushing scams is to artificially inflate the reviews and ratings of items on third-party platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy by leaving verified buyer reviews for products they ship to your address. Unscrupulous sellers then use these higher ratings to drive real purchases for their items.

Why do they call it brushing?

The term “brushing” comes from the Chinese word for cleaning. A brushing scam’s purpose is to “clean up” reviews and ratings to help sellers rank higher in product searches on e-commerce sites and online marketplaces.

How do you stop brushing scams?

The most important thing you can do to stop brushing scams is to regularly update your passwords on your e-commerce accounts. You can also contact the e-commerce platform and report sellers that have used brushing scams on you.

How do brushing scams get your address?

There are a number of ways that hackers can get your address, including data breaches, publicly accessible databases, and hacking your personal computer. Some scammers even use web crawlers to pull large amounts of data from popular websites like Facebook.

What to do if I received a package addressed to me that I didn't order from China?

You can report the package to the U.S. Postal Service or the e-commerce platform that facilitated the transaction. You are under no obligation to return the package to the sender. However, in some cases, it may have been a mistake on the part of the supplier.

Where Can I Learn More about Digital Identity Protection?

Brushing scams are annoying to deal with but they can be avoided if you are vigilant and change your online passwords regularly. If you ever receive a mysterious package that you haven’t ordered, this might be an indication that your personal information might be compromised.

If you'd like to learn more about digital identity protection and online security protection, check out our digital protection hub today to read our latest articles and guides.

If you’re interested in finding out more about digital identity protection software and the best deals in your area, reach out to one of our agents with your questions at 1-888-912-2132 or help@policyscout.com