More than one million British households may have fallen victim to a scam which involves people receiving mystery Amazon parcels they did not order.
The aim of the scam, known as “brushing”, is designed to boost the rankings of third-party sellers on the site, according to consumer watchdog Which? The fake sales can make certain products appear more popular than they actually are, which can improve their rankings to unsuspecting Amazon customers.
It said it was concerned about the number of households that have reported receiving an unsolicited Amazon package at their home address that was sent by a stranger.
Some victims had been inundated with items, with many reporting to have received items such as magnetic eyelashes, eyelash serum, toys for pets and children, Bluetooth accessories, an iPhone case, a Frisbee, medical gloves and other items that are cheap to ship in large volumes.
Which? believes third-party sellers are exploiting Amazon’s highly competitive search ranking system for products – which favours items with high sales volumes and good reviews – by sending items to unsuspecting people. They then falsely log 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.
The scam raised question marks over how individual's personal details were found, as well as the environmental impact of the unwanted items.
What to do if you think you have fallen victim to an Amazon brushing scam:
Report the incident to Amazon’s customer service team
Amazon advises recipients to donate or dispose of the item received
If you decide to keep or donate the item, it is worth being wary because Which? has previously found safety and security issues with some cheap electronics purchased on Amazon Marketplace.
Amazon added: "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.”
A Which? survey of almost 2,000 people in August found 4% of respondents – or, scaled up nationally, an estimated 1.1 million people – said they or someone in their household had received a mystery package.
Of the respondents who received one, 63% said they kept them, 28% threw them away, and 16% gave them away.
Director of policy and advocacy at Which?, Rocio Concha Galguera, said: “Amazon needs to do more to thoroughly investigate instances of brushing scams and take strong action against sellers that are attempting to mislead consumers.”
“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," she added.
Amazon said 'brushing' is "affecting all online marketplaces" and is “orchestrated by bad actors who procure names and addresses from various external sources".
“We estimate that less than 0.001% 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," added the company.
“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."