You’ve Got Mail: The Case of the Mysterious Chinese Seeds in America

Elizabeth Nyman

Farmfront Board Director


This is an ongoing collection of research our director, a trained researcher and librarian, has found to keep our followers informed.

If you’ve been on the Internet (like right now), you’ve probably noticed your friends or friends of your friends receiving mysterious packets of seeds in the mail. BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, we request you please read the information we’ve gathered below. Don’t panic! But also keep informed about what you need to do if you’ve gotten those packages.

The Leading Theory: A Brushing Scam

This is the most accepted theory so far by many media sources and supported by the USDA as their leading theory.

Brushing scams are not new and have been talked about on the website for the Better Business Bureau. Usually, the companies running these scams are in foreign countries and call also just be third-party sellers from anywhere.

They steal your address and shopping information on sites like Amazon and Wish. Then they send you really cheap items (like seeds) to “verify” you are a customer. Those sites require legitimate shipping information to ironically avoid scamming. However, this scam still makes it appear you are giving them positive reviews and business on those sites. It improves their vendor ratings, which attracts more buyers to their products.Like most prevalent crime, there is much incentive and little risk in these scams from the perspective of the scammers.

 

Who has also mentioned the likeliness of the brushing scam?

Media companies across the political bent spectrum are reporting the same or similar story. So as crazy as this story sounds, it isn’t.


A Description of the packages

  • The packages appear to all be unsolicited.
  • They are commonly mislabeled saying they contain toys or jewelry.
  • They are postmarked to indicate they are shipped in from China.
  • They do NOT indicate they have a phytosanitary certificate that ensures it is free of pests and diseases as mandated by import agreements between China and the United States.
From CBS News

Why this is possibly worrisome

Diseases, insects, non-native plants are not new to the United States, but they have caused havoc to the ecosystem. Asian carp in the Great Lakes have decimated local fish populations. Kudzu, a huge issue in the American southeast, is a perennial coiling vine native to large parts of East and Southeast Asia. It easily smothers and pulls down entire trees. It is that fast-growing and hardy in an environment that hasn’t had the chance to evolutionarily compete with it.

What to do if you get seeds in the mail

DON’T

freak out!

The USDA is suspecting this is just a brushing scam and NOT something like intentional biowarfare. It should also be noted that the Chinese government has actively offered to help investigate what is going on. The Wall Street Journal reported the following:
China’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that mailing labels on the seed packages were forged, and China has asked the U.S. to return the packages to China for investigation .

DON’T

jump to conclusions!

We are STILL trying to understand what is happening. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” (aka Hanlon’s razor)

DON’T

plant those seeds!

Seeds are awesome, but they are also capable of introducing invasive species. Even if this is just a brushing scam, the packages still didn’t go through the proper channels China and the US have arranged for sending seeds to each other. That agreement exists because both countries understand the impact of unknown organic matter in a new land.

Invasive species can disrupt our local ecology and agriculture systems. Even if you live in an urban or suburban area! We are all part of the same country, the same systems, and the same community. We even had an awesome Facebook LIVE session with Amanda, our city-dwelling Farmfront contributor, that touched on that.

DON’T

throw away those seeds!

This can unintentionally encourage them to germinate. Think about those plants in the sidewalk that just grow out of nothing. Again, seeds are awesome. If you watched Jurrasic Park you know “Life finds a way.” Yes, that applies to plants, too!

We invite you to use the following infograph wherever you think it would be useful!


 

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