BILLINGS - This time of year, packages from the mail are piling up on the porches of Billings residents across the city.
But a neighborhood in southwest Billings has been hit by a bizarre scam, leaving neighbors scratching their heads about what to do.
It’s called a brushing scam, according to the United States Postal Inspector Service, and it's popped up in Montana before, roughly three years ago, when five Montana residents reported getting strange packages of seeds in the mail.
You may remember that bizarre encounter, but if not, John Wiegand, the Postal Inspector, gives us a refresher on what the brushing scam entails.
“Somebody is basically creating a purchase of a vendor of a website of their own product, and they are mailing that out and it creates an actual verified purchase,” he said.
How does it work?
According to the US Postal Inspector Service, a person receives packages or parcels containing various sorts of items that were not ordered or requested by the recipient.
While the package may be addressed to the recipient, there is no return address, or the return address could be that of a retailer.
The sender of the item is usually an international, third-party seller who has found the recipient’s address online.
The intention is to give the impression that the recipient is a verified buyer who has written positive online reviews of the merchandise. These fake reviews help to fraudulently boost or inflate the products’ ratings and sales numbers.
It’s what happened to Ivan Wiggins who lives in the Annafeld subdivision, and it turns out others in his neighborhood also received a mysterious package, too.
“Talking to a couple of people we figured out it was that brushing scam,” he said. “We of course thought it was Christmas packages.”
But it was something else.
“So, I pulled it in, odd name so I just posted it (to Facebook) and figured it was a lost package in the neighborhood that usually happens.”
In this case, because the item was shipped to Wiggins' address and several others in his neighborhood, now the scammers could potentially use his name to make a verified review and boost the item in a search.
Although he still hasn’t opened his box, he believes it’s an internet wireless modem after that’s what others in his neighborhood reported was in their packages.
He has no plans to open it and hopes if he sends it back, scammers won’t get the chance to use his identity to boost their product online.
“Just to give myself the best chance of them not being able to use my information,” he said.” I am not sure how it would impact if you did open it, or how that all works out, but I am not going to.”