After a bunch of mysterious and unsolicited packages with packets of seeds enclosed arrived in mailboxes across the country, government officials have warned Americans to not do anything with them. So what's going on? What do families need to know about these puzzling packages that appear to come from China and are randomly showing up at homes?
People in nearly 30 states have received mysterious packages with shipping labels that suggest they came from China, as The New York Times reported. Some labels said "jewelry," "accessories," or other cheap items were inside the package, but actually contained packages of seeds, according to NBC News. Now, as CNN reported, all 50 states have issued warnings.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement on Thursday that the agency is "aware that people across the country have received suspicious, unsolicited packages of seed that appear to be coming from China" and that it is "working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies, and State departments of agriculture to investigate the situation."
So what do you do if you get an unsolicited package in the mail? According to the USDA, you should immediately contact your State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director. The agency also asked that you "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." And finally, do not plant seeds because the origin is unknown and they could be potentially invasive plant species. However, if you've already planted them, report it to the USDA.
As officials continue to investigate the packages, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry told CNN the address labels have been forged and are asking the United States Postal Service to send the packages to China for further investigation.
The USDA said, at this time, it believes the random packages are part of a "brushing scam," which is when "people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales."
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), packages sent through this type of scam typically have no return address and the items inside are random, but most of the time they are lightweight and inexpensive to ship. The idea is that you'll maybe write a "glowing online review" for the product, but it also can be concerning because it means whoever sent the package probably has some of your personal information, as the BBB explains.
So if you receive one of these unsolicited packages of seeds while the USDA continues to investigate, don't plant them and don't throw them in the trash. Don't panic, but do report it ASAP.