Amazon 'brushing': Scammers may have targeted over one million households

28 October 2021, 12:25

Amazon customers could have been subjected to a "brushing" scam
Amazon customers could have been subjected to a "brushing" scam. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Over one million households in the UK may have fallen victim to an Amazon scam called "brushing", an investigation has revealed.

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Concerns have been raised by consumer group Which? after households have received mystery Amazon packages from third party sellers in a bid to improve their product ranking.

The watchdog believes third-party sellers on Amazon are exploiting the platform’s highly competitive search ranking system for products - which favours items with high sales volumes and good reviews - by sending items to unsuspecting people and then falsely logging it as a genuine purchase.

Some sellers take the scam a step further by creating a fake Amazon account linked to the recipient's address to "purchase" the item themselves and then leave a positive fake review.

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After conducting a survey of 1,839 UK adults between August 13-17, the watchdog found four per cent of people had received Amazon packages they did not order and were not sent by a known person.

Four per cent of people, scaled up nationally, would equate to around 1.1 million people who have potentially been affected by the brushing scam.

Items received by unassuming households included magnetic eyelashes, eyelash serum, toys for pets and children, Bluetooth accessories, an iPhone case, a Frisbee and medical gloves - all of which are cheap to ship in large volumes.

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The scam raises questions over how Amazon customers' personal details were found as well as the environmental impact of the unwanted items.

Which? director of policy and advocacy Rocio Concha said: "Consumers should be able to trust that the popularity and reviews of products they are buying online are genuine, so it is troubling that third-party sellers appear to be using brushing scams to game Amazon Marketplace.

"Amazon needs to do more to thoroughly investigate instances of brushing scams and take strong action against sellers that are attempting to mislead consumers."

Of the survey of respondents who received a mystery parcel, 63 per cent said they kept them, 28 per cent threw them away and 16 per cent gave them away.

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Responding to the concerns, Amazon said: "Orchestrated by bad actors who procure names and addresses from various external sources, 'brushing' is a scheme affecting all online marketplaces.

"We estimate that less than 0.001 per cent of Amazon orders are impacted by brushing as Amazon has robust processes in place to prevent abuse from impacting our reviews, search rankings and other customer experiences.

"We will never stop improving the sophistication of abuse prevention in our store, and we will continue to take the appropriate enforcement actions, including support for law enforcement organisations in their efforts to hold bad actors accountable.

"We strongly encourage those who have received unsolicited packages to report them to our customer services team so that we can investigate fully and take the appropriate actions."