State warns against possible ‘brushing’ scam involving unsolicited seed packages in the mail

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If you get an unsolicited seed package in the mail, call the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

According to the state, unwanted packages from a foreign source started showing up in the mail about two weeks ago. Now the packages are flooding the state and nation. As a result, county cooperative extension offices are getting lots of calls. Kenny Sherin, Randolph County Extension director, described one of the calls to his office.

“It’s a mystery to them. They have heard about it. They called us curious about it,” Sherin said.

The seed shipment from an overseas country could be a part of a scam called “brushing.” The Better Business Bureau said third party sellers use your address in order to boost their product ratings, internet reviews and generate fake sales. But what they are really doing is committing a crime.

“It’s illegal to bring plant material across borders,” Sherin said. “The Department of Agriculture is taking this seriously and the USDA knows about this.”

State officials are also concerned because the annoying seed packages could contain plants that might damage the environment.

“The Department of Agriculture wants to collect those to make sure that there’s nothing invasive about the species coming in to take over different types of native species,” Sherin said.

You should not plant any of the seeds in the package. Instead, call the Plant Industry Division of the Department of Agriculture at 800-206-9333. Plant Industry staff will arrange a time so they can pick up the package.

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