Since the beginning of June, people all over the world have been receiving untracked packages from China. The contents? Seeds. Sometimes, utensils.
On Tuesday July 28, Florida’s agriculture and consumer services commissioner, Nikki Fried, posted on Twitter that residents in the state had received more than 630 reports of suspicious seed packages.
Kelcie Litten, a Zephyrhills resident, received a package of seeds on July 28.
“I had heard about the seeds, read a few articles online, but really didn’t think too much of it,” said Litten. “I checked the mail a few days ago and saw a small package with a label from China, with the words ‘Untracked’ in big bold letters, and I kinda thought it was weird. Then as I looked at it closer I saw the item description listed ‘wire connector’ and I knew I hadn’t purchased that.”
Litten said there was no description or wording on the package of seeds and no shipping label inside. Just a handful of seeds.
These puzzling surprise packages have been deemed part of a “brushing scam,” per the US Department of Agriculture.
Brushing is a term used when people receive items they didn’t order, then the seller posts false customer reviews to boost online sales, according to the USDA.
Agriculture officials highly discourage recipients from planting the seeds.
“The introduction of plant seeds into the United States is tightly regulated by the USDA. Seeds of unknown origin may constitute agricultural smuggling, may be invasive, may introduce pathogens, toxins, or plant and animal diseases, may pose a risk of foodborne illness, and may pose a threat to plant and animal health,” Fried’s office emailed on Friday, July 31.
The Florida Department of Agriculture is working with the USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the mystery.
“The USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment,” according to the USDA website.
So far, the Department of Agriculture has identified 14 different species from the seeds they’ve sampled. Species identified included, mustard, cabbage, morning glory, hibiscus, roses along with common herbs such as mint and rosemary reported Osama El-Lissy, with the Plant Protection program of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, on Wednesday, July 29.
But it appears seeds may not be the only unsolicited mystery packages in the mail.
Matt Massoud, a resident of Key West, hadn’t heard of the mystery packages when he received his on Thursday, July 30.
Massoud wrote, “Y’all be getting weird, unsolicited, seeds from China while I get surprise cutlery,” on his Facebook page along with a picture of the contents of his package. Massoud says he threw away the packaging before realizing it was part of the same scam as the mystery seeds.
What To Do
Anyone who receives similar unsolicited packages should follow these directions:
- Do not open the seed packet and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials, if possible.
- Put seed packets/contents and mailing materials into a sealable plastic bag
- Do not plant the seeds or discard them in trash that will be landfilled.
- Unopened packages, and packages containing objects other than seeds, should be reported to the USDA Anti-Smuggling hotline at 1-800-877-3835 or SITC.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Opened packages with seeds should report to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry online at FDACS.gov/SeedByMail. Recipients can either drop off the package at their local UF/IFAS Extension county office, or schedule a safe, contactless pickup of the seeds, packaging and mailing materials by an FDACS Inspector.
Recipients with questions other than seed reporting can contact the Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 orDPIhelpline@FDACS.gov. When reporting the seed package to FDACS and USDA/APHIS, you need to complete a simple form with your name, physical address, phone number, and email for contact and seed collection.