Mysterious seeds that appear to be shipped from China are showing up in at least 28 states in the United States and in Britain. The seeds are arriving in unordered packages at the homes of residents in both countries. The USDA believes they may be part of a “brushing scam” to boost an online seller with false reviews, but residents are still disturbed by the unexpected arrivals, NBC News reported.
Here’s what you need to know:
At Least 28 States Have Received the Mysterious Seeds
Residents in at least 28 states have received the strange seed packets, NBC News reported. States have issued warnings, advising residents not to plant the seeds in case they are invasive species. The packages have Chinese writing on them and often contain only a packet of unidentified seeds. Sometimes the packages also contain jewelry or another inexpensive item. The packages are sometimes white and say China Post somewhere on the package, but the seeds also sometimes arrive in yellow envelopes, according to NBC News.
NBC News reported that public warnings were issued in the following states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington state, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The USDA has said there is no evidence this is anything but a “brushing scam.” According to the Better Business Bureau, a brushing scam occurs when an unordered box arrives at someone’s home. The seller who “bought” the item then posts a fake review, acting like they received the item, in order to boost their own seller rating. They don’t lose out on money because they paid themselves for the item, essentially. These items typically come in Amazon boxes, but not always.
The USDA said about the seeds from China:
USDA urges anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. 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. Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.
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. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.
The seeds are not all the same plant species and they haven’t all been identified. Here is what some of the seeds look like. This first photo is from the USDA:
Here’s a photo shared by the Delaware Department of Agriculture:
Mississippi’s Commissioner Andy Gipson shared this photo:
This photo was shared by the Maryland Department of Agriculture:
MDA is aware that people across the country, including in Maryland, have received unsolicited packages of seeds from China in recent days. MDA is working closely with its partners at @USDA_APHIS to monitor this situation. (1/3) pic.twitter.com/x6GiVyoUj4
— Maryland Agriculture (@MdAgDept) July 27, 2020
And these were shared by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services:
VDACS urges #Virginia residents who have received unsolicited seed packets from #China not to plant the seeds & contact ReportAPest@vdacs.virginia.gov. Residents in other states should contact their state department of ag located here https://t.co/CcNKN2ScZv pic.twitter.com/JpPNp1rCFv
— VDACS (@VaAgriculture) July 27, 2020
— VDACS (@VaAgriculture) July 24, 2020
Denton County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension shared this photo:
And here’s one from Washington State:
Seeds Are Also Being Sent to People in Britain
The U.S. isn’t the only country receiving mysterious seeds from China. On July 17, the Daily Mail reported that hundreds of British gardeners were receiving unsolicited seeds from China that were marked as something different, such as ear studs, so they could pass customs.
According to the Daily Mail, these were sent to customers who had previously purchased seeds on Amazon, eBay or similar sites.
Sue Westerdale told the Daily Mail that she and her husband had ordered seeds from a variety of Amazon suppliers, but then they got a bag from China labeled “ear studs” that ended up being black seeds they had not ordered. The Animal and Plant Health Agency told the Daily Mail they had a team investigating and were asking people to send their purchase history details along with the packages to officials.