A strange scam has been sprouting up in the mailboxes of Americans across the country.
From New York to Washington state, a growing number of people have recently reported receiving unsolicited shipments of seeds — that appear to have been sent from China.
The US Department of Agriculture says the puzzling packages appear to be part of a “brushing scam” — where folks receive items they never ordered from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
The agency is urging residents to report the packages and issued the warning: “Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the mystery Chinese seeds:
What do they look like?
The packages look like standard mail — placed in light grey or beige envelopes, according to images shared by authorities.
Some of the labels state that the packages are rings, bracelets or other jewelry — when they actually contain clear, sealable plastic bags filled with unidentified seeds of different sizes, shapes and colors.
One New Jersey attorney told NJ.com the package he received was labeled “Bonsai.”
Who is receiving them?
Residents of all 50 states have reported receiving the suspicious bundles, according to CBS News.
Several local agriculture departments, including in Pennsylvania and Delaware, said they’ve been notified about people receiving the packages.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets told The Post Thursday that it has received more than 500 reports of the shipments. It’s unclear if any were sent to New York City.
“Our office has received questions from a few New Yorkers who have received unsolicited packages allegedly sent from China that are marked as containing jewelry (or other items) but which actually contain plant seeds,” Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball said in a statement Monday.
“Similar packages have been received in other states and the United States Department of Agriculture is investigating.”
Florida’s agriculture and consumer services commissioner, Nikki Fried, said on Twitter Tuesday that the state had received more than 600 reports of suspicious seed packages.
Where are they coming from?
The packages “appear to be coming from China,” according to the USDA. On Monday, the agency said it was “aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China.”
Shipping labels also indicate that they are being sent from China, including from Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, Shenzhen, in the Guangdong province, and other areas.
But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin insisted on Tuesday that the country’s postal service strictly sticks to restrictions on sending seeds.
He claimed records on the packages have been falsified and asked for them to be sent to China for investigation.
What are the dangers?
Some states, including Washington and Alabama, have labeled the shipments as “agricultural smuggling.”
Agriculture officials say it’s crucial for folks not to plant the seeds so as not to introduce invasive species, which can displace or destroy native plants and insects, severely damage crops or bring diseases.
“Legitimate seeds imported into the United States meet rigorous standards to ensure quality and prevent introduction of invasive species, insects and diseases,” the NYS Dept. of Agriculture said in a statement.
“People who receive seeds that they did not order, that are mislabeled, or are from a questionable source, should not plant or handle the seeds,” it warned.
What should you do if you get them?
Anyone who receives the unsolicited packages should immediately contact the local plant regulatory officials or the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in their state, the USDA said.
“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,” the agency said in a statement.
In the meantime, the seeds should be stored safely in a place children and pets cannot access, authorities said.
Officials in New York said that due to a high volume of inquiries they are asking residents to email the USDA directly at email@example.com.
The USDA said it will test the seeds and determine whether there’s anything that could be of concern to US agriculture or the environment.
With Post wires
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