/ Money

Beware this new Amazon ‘brushing’ scam

A Which? Money member contacted us when Amazon Prime deliveries they didn’t order turned up on their doorstep. Do you know what a ‘brushing’ scam is? We explain the details.

An Amazon Prime member recently let our Which? Money team know that they’d been sent two items they didn’t order and hadn’t paid for; a carbon monoxide detector and some gaming headphones.

When they called Amazon, they were told that the account used to purchase them wasn’t theirs, and that they were paid for with gift vouchers.

Three days later, they received two more packages – braids and a screen protector – but they refused to accept them. Again the member called Amazon, which put a block on the spurious account.

The member then changed their password and ordered a new credit card. No more orders arrived, but why were they sent to them in the first place?

Brushing scams explained

At first glance, receiving packages you haven’t paid for might seem like a great problem to have. But it’s likely to be a new scam known as ‘brushing’.

This type of fraud involves Amazon sellers setting up accounts in a stranger’s name, then sending their products to an unsuspecting recipient.

They then use this account they’ve set up to write fake ‘verified reviews’ in a bid to improve their seller ratings.

In this case, it’s likely that the member’s name and address had been leaked somewhere. We contacted Amazon and it assured us that the member’s genuine account hadn’t been compromised.

With the member’s permission, we also checked their email address on haveibeenpwned.com, a website that tells you whether your data has been part of a breach. In this case, the data had been involved in at least four.

What to do if you’re a victim of ‘brushing’

It’s always good to be cautious where personal data is concerned, so the member was right to report the incident to Amazon, change their password and order a new credit card.

See all our Consumer Rights scams advice

Identity theft is a serious threat as once a criminal has access to your personal information, they can do everything from open an account in your name and run up debt, or use it to get copies of your official documents.

You can read more on what identity theft is and what to do if you think your information has been compromised in our guide.

Have you had free packages turn up in your name? If so, what did you do? Would you report them or keep them?

Comments

I don’t understand this. Yes, cloning an account can have consequences and is both annoying and a nuisance to have to sort out, but I don’t see how anyone would benefit by sending goods free to a strange address. There seems no point, because the sender either has to pay for the goods or lose them from the stock on sale. Even if the cloned account is charged for them, the recipient can simply cancel the transaction and do what your reader did. At the same time the sender has the bad publicity of this fraud to add to his/her profile. Amazon would not be best pleased either.

From reading the article it seems Which’s current obsession is with ‘Fake Reviews’. Frankly, when the organisation is more than happy to cancel an email service for its eldest and most vulnerable members, I’d have thought other matters should be considered of greater priority.

And why is Which? only concerned abut Amazon? What about Trip Advisor? Of course some reviews are dodgy but providing there are enough of them it’s simple enough to separate the legitimate from the ropey.

I do wonder, sometimes, about the priorities Which? accords its researchers.

Amelia: does Which? not believe its readers are already well aware that “you can’t trust every review you read“? I would argue that Which? readers, in fact, are more likely to be canny about the reviews they read than most.

I agree with John, to a large extent, that the review system is flawed, primarily because of its openness to anyone and everyone. But it can offer perspectives on products prior to purchase that are both insightful and valuable.

To take an example, examining the Amazon review system reveals there’s good quality control on reviews through the non-verified purchaser route. Amazon introduced that in light of previous investigations that suggested reviews were not always what they seemed.

But I believe your inherent assumption that readers are duped by the glowing reviews misses two points: the first being what I’ve already noted about the perception and intellect of the average Which? reader. The second is that those who only read the top reviews are openly inviting problems, in exactly the same way that those who only read the Daily Mail will hardly get an unbiased and accurate picture of the news.

I would suggest that Which? might consider adopting a different approach to this issue. Instead of the ‘sound bite’ approach of exposing dodgy reviewing tactics, about which most will already be aware, it could concentrate on the less glamorous and flashy task of teaching readers how to analyse a spread of reviews.

For a start, it’s educational to choose any well-reviewed product and peruse the one star reviews. You might imagine that these reflect the dreadful quality of something, or its unsuitability for the task intended but generally the one star reviews concern items that are broken on arrival, do not arrive on the stated date or where the packaging has been destroyed en route. Only rarely will a one star review actually make a salient point about the efficacy or quality of a product.

The ‘sound bite’ approach of the exposé might increase subscription levels, or keep Which? in the public mind but as an example of the sort of research for which we pay I don’t believe it has a place.

Ian, I agree that most savvy consumers will take vendor supplied reviews with a pinch of salt.

In olden days, many TV adverts were obviously(?) scripted “fake reviews”, e.g. to show the superiority of one washing powder over another.

But then, if all vendor supplied reviews become fully honest and fully comprehensive, wouldn’t that put Which? out of a job?

Bad reviews can be removed. I bought some of these glass food containers when there were no bad reviews. They are described as microwave, oven, fridge and freezer safe.
https://www.clasohlson.com/uk/Coline%20Glass%20Food%20Container/Pr441898003

As I was happy with them I was going to buy some more but then noticed the bad reviews which are periodically removed. Many customers have reviewed them stating they explode. I have previously suggested Which? test them for safety. Because of the safety issue, I only use them in the freezer and thaw at room temperature. The more recent reviews are favourable.

Current reviews translated from Swedish:
*WARNING*
This week I would put on a lid and the box broke into my hands. There were big shards and I cut myself in one hand. Luckily there was no big damage but it could have been really bad, I pushed my hands against the box itself. Someone here below wrote about handler errors when the boxes break. But if it is now that more people encounter serious errors with a product, then it’s actually wrong with the product. Then you have used a material that fails to be handled in the way that can be expected.

**WARNING**
A week ago, this product exploded in thousands of small glass shards next to me 5 minutes after I ate my lunch from it. And how lucky I had it put in a plastic bag and the glass ended up in this. God knows what could have happened if it exploded when I ate my lunch. SO WARNING FOR THIS PRODUCT.

2 food boxes have exploded.
One when I put it in the sink. One when I discarded it and put it in dismantled. For the first time, I thought it must have been a bad copy. The second time I was scared and angry. Imagine it when you set the fridge, ie at the height of the face. It took an hour to clean the kitchen from wet glass pieces. Many small needles. When I see that more people have the same problem, I suspect it’s happening to others. Bad product that should be recalled.

Almost the same event as the review below by Izabelle. The box exploded with a lot of pressure, it went into a thousand pieces. I thought nobody was in the kitchen when this happened. However, mine had been heated in micron, but this happened about 6 hours afterwards.
Hope I do not have 9 explosions to wait now.

2 out of 4 food boxes have exploded after a short period of time after purchase. Due to thick glass, there has been a considerable pressure in the glass when broken.
One exploded when it was empty in the sink, at room temperature and without touching it. The other exploded after I removed it from the fridge (NOT heated in micro) and a few minutes later would start eating out of it. Glass is shoved in different directions on people around me, as well as my hands and arms. No one was injured but if I had close my face or held it in my hand, I could have done it badly.

Well define “whiter than white” that was used in a famous washing powder advert. It’s meaningless as are a huge percentage of advertising claims.
Unfortunately, the ASA is a fairly useless quango that bans Adverts like the Maltesers Ad line, ‘chocolates with a less fattening centre’, solely because the ASA thinks the public is so thick as to believe the statement meant that Maltesers were a fat reducing aid!!!
It seems to me that virtually everything you read can be opinionated, biased or just damn lies and you need to fall back on Which? to at least get honest reviews.
Buyer beware!

Which? is so concerned about ‘fake reviews’ that they’ve removed the ability for subscribers to post their own reviews. Could that have been because too many subscriber reviews were critical of the Which? test conclusions?

I have always thought that the claim ‘Whiter than White’ was based on the fact that a fluorescent additive is added to washing detergents.
This converts invisible UV into light in the visible spectrum. It’s theoretcally possible that a white shirt could emit more ‘white’ light than actually is falling on it. Obviously this works best outside where there is UV from the sun. My UV meter registers virtually no UV A, B or C in doors.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Good morning. Unfortunately the system in place was unfit for purpose. We’re reviewing our community technology in order to make improvements to the way we can interact in future (Which? Conversation is a great place for dialogue – we hope you stick around) 🙂

I’ve gone into detail about why this system had to be removed here:

https://conversation.which.co.uk/discussion/which-discussion/#comment-1546488

All reviews are “Dodgy” Some are made up by people just to win a competition, – having been a comper myself” I know this happens as I have never had dealings with a company but asked to review them have a look yourself for a competition wanting a review as an entry… and some negative reviews on sites get removed” when the company fights them to be removed – trust pilot is a prime example of this. In reality I do not trust any reviews by anyone. I trust my own review when I have had dealings with a website or company.

I think fake reviews are a big deal and of course when it concerns Amazon it is a high prioritiy matter as it deals with tens of thousands of people daily which by the law of averages will include members.

Which? if anything has been rather hands-off in respect of Amazon in not mentioning its warehouse practices, tax incentives, and driving other businesses into the wall.

I am left wondering whether Amazon MarketPlace sellers of an unscrupulous bent might, as a form of revenge, be targetting for this scam customers who have given bad reviews.

I think the whole review business is getting out of hand. As soon as your order is despatched nowadays you are pestered with ludicrous entreaties to rate the company. Look at this gushing puff I got the other day from a book dealer –

In every order, we aim to delight and deliver not just an item, but a memorable experience. Your feedback therefore matters. Your positive feedback helps us know we are doing well and let the concerned teams know. It also helps us improve our rating as a seller. //Your negative feedback helps us learn from our mistakes and improve our service. //We thank you for your understanding and your time in advance. Hope you enjoy your order!

It was followed a few days later by more patronising waffle. As it happened, the seller let me down on delivery – seven days from despatch to arrival and outside even Amazon’s generous timescale for delivery. The book was badly packed, too, with inadequate protection; luckily it didn’t land on the corners of the covers. I submitted an honest review. Should I now fear reprisals? Memorable experience alright.

It’s worth remembering that Regulation 27A of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 entitles consumers to keep unsolicited goods that a supplier sends them, and the consumer cannot be asked for pay for the goods.

i read with interest the forementioned points,ian’s points were quite right-on to a point but when he then mentioned the daily mail (the most popular daily in the uk by sales figures)as being biased could he possibly tell us which part of the media he considers has no bias?? so can we have unbiased opinion before commiting to print please;allround i feel the which researchers do a pretty good job & this is why they have members input to correct when necessary,keep up the good work & a merry & safe festive season to all.

Fair point, John; I look for media that doesn’t operate for profit. The Guardian and Observer, for example are both run by Trusts. I also check stories carefully in some cases by looking for various sources for the same story. Often, a story that amazes might be from a single source – something I instinctively mistrust.

The BBC and ITV are both very highly regulated, and tend to be as free from bias as is possible. In many cases, they go over the top to provide a balanced view. The Mail has improved slightly under its new editor, now the egregious Dacre has been moved on. But the print media tend to have very pronounced biases, and many people simply fail to see them.

Richard says:
8 December 2018

sorry Ian but if you think the Guardian is not biased then you are seriously deluded. To say that being run by trusts makes them unbiased is laughable.

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Richard: I did not say they were unbiased and if you read what I posted, you will note I added “the print media tend to have very pronounced biases, and many people simply fail to see them.”.

Reading without comprehending is, of course, the main reason the tabloid press stay in business.

Look at all that wasted packaging. Retailers (I read about 3 weeks ago) are going to be charged some sort of packaging tax. Yet another tax that Amazon will avoid.

I find it very difficult to contact Amazon. I tracked a recent non-delivery and was told it had been returned by the carrier as the parcel was damaged, and to contact Amazon if I did not get the automatic refund. Guess what – no refund came. It took me ages to find out how to contact Amazon. Evetually got through & was awarded a refund. Have not checked my Credit Card statement as yet, but am confident it will be there. What a waste of time. Very quick to place an order, very slow for anything else.

It’s very fast and easy to contact Amazon in the UK. This link takes you directly to their contact page, where they offer several options. If you choose “telephone” your ‘phone will ring before you have time to exit the page. The customer service for Amazon in the UK is peerless in my experience.

Jonathan Woorich says:
17 August 2020

Only way to contact is via chat, and they have done nothing to stop random items arriving despite my reporting them over 6 weeks. No other way to contact or way to raise a complaint. Peerless?

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Wrong, Duncan; see above.

Having read through the article I can’t really grasp what the point of this “scam” is. It’s true that fake reviews are a nuisance – but savvy shoppers can often spot these a mile off anyway. It’s also a major worry that the security of the account holder has been breached – but all companies are vulnerable to this, not just Amazon.

Having sent out products, for which they will not be paid, I can’t seen what the “scammers” have gained. Does anyone know the answer to that?

Robert Gibson says:
8 December 2018

I tend to take a slightly different approach on reviews in general, if the purchased item is as expected, I now do not submit a review, however if the item is not in accordance with the invitation to purchase, I will invariably pen a review under the heading of “Caveat Emptor “, and at least warn others of the problems with suppliers who supply faulty goods and or goods not in accordance with their on line advert. I believe more benefit can be derived by a negative review, at least most people may think twice before parting with their “baw bees” Possibly hailing from North of Hadrian`s Wall, I may be rowing against the tide !!!

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MICHAEL RADCLIFFE says:
8 December 2018

The other party would have got the address, and possibly phone number as well, from 192.com, or similar, and created an Amazon account at that address. It was paid for by vouchers so the other party wouldn’t have been out of pocket if they have access to a supply of vouchers.

I have had several pairs of sandals come to us which had been returned. I contacted AMAZON & after a long time spent on the phone trying to solve the problem I was told AMAZON could not help & to do what I wanted with the sandals, I said I would send them to a charity shop. I’ve had several more pairs since & then they have stopped coming. I saved the Email chat’s which I had with AMAZON so I had proof of what they said to me.

It’s not only fake reviews that you have to be aware of but also Truthful reviews that Amazon reject.
I submitted the following review but Amazon rejected it without actually stating the true reason only referring me to their terms and conditions.
obviously AMAZON don’t like Truthful negative reviews:

Two stars
Dissatisfied

Ordered two packs – only received one together with an item showed in the attached photo. Advised supplier of their error but not offered a replacement only a 10% discount off my next order !! I know it is only a cheap item but they really should be more careful when selecting items to despatch

I suspect that was rejected because it discusses the supplier and not the product. Amazon routinely circulate an email to anyone who buys from a marketplace trader after a sale, with the aim of building a picture of just how reliable or otherwise any individual is. If you don’t complete that but do insert a negative review but mainly about the supplier they will reject it.

Amazon do accept negative reviews; I know, as I’ve done a few. Interestingly, if it’s Amazon themselves that sell the product they accept reviews about themselves which are very critical. It’s actually one of my pet hates: one star reviews which have nothing whatsoever to do with the product.

This is unlikely to affect me because Amazon had ignored my communications over safety issues, so I rarely buy from them.

It’s interesting to read about the brushing scam, though I don’t understand how it makes economic sense.

AN ANSWER
I believe that the sending out from Amazon of unsolicited goods may in fact be linked with how Amazon operates and the perverse incentives it has. Essentially if your product is not moving particularly fast and you have it stored at an Amazon warehouse they can say you must have it back at 25centimes [25p] and item or we can destroy it for you for 10centimes.

Faced with that choice sending out stock may seem like your product is being bought by the public and Amazon will continue to stock it. It may also help that you can post a few reviews.

I translate this from Que Choisir an active French consumer group of 160,000. Amazon hold 20% of the on-line market in France.

” On the other hand, Amazon has become a must for the sellers of its marketplace (See box). To be able to sell their products on Amazon, merchants have two solutions. Or they spend the goods themselves, stored and packaged by them, each time an order is placed (basic offer). Or they subscribe to the service “accelerated by Amazon”. “The products become due to the Amazon Prime program, that is to say the sellers can touch our most loyal customers. We also take care of the packaging and shipping of the product sold”, explains Elise Beuriot, head of the Amazon marketplace for France. To this end, the seller stores his goods in Amazon’s warehouses. The group has five in France, others in Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom to serve the European market.

€ 0.10 per unit destroyed
Of course, that comes at a cost . Amazon collects the costs, especially storage, on the sellers of the marketplace (between 26 and 36 € per month and per cubic meter). And as a good logistician, the e-commerce giant does inventories. For example, twice a year, on 15 February and 15 August, it proposes to sellers whose stocks are not moving to return their goods (at their own expense) or to proceed with the destruction of their stock. Cost: 10 euro cents per deleted unit. “It’s cheaper than bringing the products home,” says one of the marketplaces. Amazon indeed charges € 0.25 per unit returned. This solution may make economic sense, it remains incomprehensible at the time of the awakening of ecological consciences. It is difficult to know what volumes, what types of products are being wasted, or even how Amazon is destroying them. The e-merchant did not answer our questions on the subject. He is content to point out that unsold toys, shoes, clothes or hygiene products are given to associations as charitable donations. Is it the inventory of the sellers of its marketplace ? There’s no way to know.

Recently, Friends of the Earth has been concerned about the situation. “Amazon destroyed inventions, but also products that have been returned by customers. This is revolutionary, but it is difficult to act because this practice is not illegal “, laments Alma Dufour, campaign manager of Extraction and overconsumption within the association. National and European public authorities, however, are putting forward the idea of extending the life of products in order to foster a policy of sustainable development. This is a policy which, obviously, should be reviewed.”

I’d like our members to know about my letter to your magazine editor that deprecated your change of local tradesmen as recommedned by local users to Trusted Traders which the Traders have to pay for. I think you have surrendered your integrity to increase your income. How very disappointing.
From a member for more than 40 years.

Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve often used Which Local to find tradesmen and I was unaware it had closed. (In March 2018 if anyone else didn’t know) Trusted traders is all very well but I know from speaking to someone who had been invited to join that it is quite expensive. He had enough work to keep him busy so had declined. Given that Which is supposed to be helping the consumer I find this very annoying.

You also need to bear in mind that the Trusted Trader scheme is not a recommendation on the prices charged or the quality of work. In fact as with all these sorts of schemes their must be a slight overhead to pay the £480 cost for a small trader.

I am not at all impressed that WTTT has signed up Carpetright as the problem end is the freelance carpet fitters. As for Stannah Stairlifts I am concerned that the Which? logo is assumed to mean it is product recommended when it is not the case.

I am afraid under the old CEO that Which? lost its way a bit, but as he has been replaced I am hopeful that things will improve.

Tim Stevenson says:
10 December 2018

I too am puzzled. Either the account used was that of the recipent of the parcels, in which case (s)he could go in and edit the reviews to no-star critical ones, OR that account wa different, although duplicating the target’s personal details, in which case changing passsword etc on the true account would have no point?

S. Dearman says:
12 December 2018

My partner ordered an item from Amazon who on already being informed of our new address, sent it to our old one. We contacted Amazon who then realized what had happened sent us another one, The item had to be signed for but was never reported by owner of wrong address nor did Amazon bother to trace the original package that had been fraudulently signed for and kept. No wonder these people get away with it?

I’ve received two items from amazon that I have not ordered! No package notes and as I have an account but have never ordered anything, I was worried. Checked my account and there are no orders in my history. No money has come off my cards or out of my bank. First item was some ski gloves, second a dash cam. Even got a text from dpd for the second one…rang amazon, they said it must be a gift…it most definitely is not. Very confused. Could someone have set up a new account from my address with my phone number and in my name?

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