Rights & Money

Free Seeds? Don’t Plant Them!

People have been receiving deliveries of mysterious seeds they didn’t order

By Caitlin Finlay


Reports of seeds being delivered to surprised households throughout North America, Europe, and Australia have been in the media lately. Now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has released a statement regarding the unsolicited delivery of seeds in which the agency stresses the importance of not planting these seeds or disposing of them in the garbage or compost because the seeds could introduce plant pests or an invasive plant species into Canada. If you receive an unsolicited package of seeds, keep the sealed packet of seeds and the packaging (including the mailing label), and contact your local CFIA office so it can investigate.

Canadian authorities haven’t provided theories regarding the unsolicited deliveries, but the US Department of Agriculture suspects the phenomenon is part of a brushing scam. Brushing scams involve online sellers mailing out unrequested products and then writing fake positive reviews online under the recipients’ names. Many websites such as Amazon have what are called “verified purchase” reviews, which are given priority and credibility since they are supposedly from someone who has purchased the product. Since the customer technically did receive the product, the seller will write a “verified purchase” review in his or her name. Given enough fake positive reviews, the product could then be prioritized in the website’s advertising algorithm and recommended to potential new customers as a reliable vendor. As many buyers rely on reviews to make decisions while shopping online, these fake positive reviews can promote future sales for the seller.

The unsuspecting recipients of products generally aren’t charged for the products, but receiving a package could be a sign that the sender has access to a recipient’s name and address, probably from a genuine online purchase he or she made. Knowing this, recipients should change their passwords on the website of any online vendors they’ve used and keep an eye on their credit to ensure there hasn’t been further identity theft.

If you have received any unsolicited packages in the mail, you can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Better Business Bureau.