Scams

China plant seeds mystery solved? Police, officials think packages sent to US homes could be tied to scam reviews

The mysterious, unsolicited packages of seeds supposedly being sent from China to homes across America – prompting agriculture departments in at least 31 states to issue warnings against planting them – may be invasive species and could be tied to a fake product review scam, police and officials are saying. The packages, based on photographs and statements from officials, appeared to have been shipped by China’s state-owned postal company and contained Chinese lettering on the exterior, advertising products ranging from jewelry to toys. But, what’s actually inside seem to be random plant seeds. States from coast to coast have been urging residents to report the unexpected deliveries to their local agriculture departments over concerns that the seeds could be invasive or harmful species. The packages have garnered the attention of federal investigators — with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) working alongside the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and other federal and state agencies. USDA officials have been asking anyone who received a suspicious seed package to contact their state plant regulator or their state’s APHIS plant health director. “Do not plant seeds from unknown origins,” the USDA urged in a statement. Officials in several states said there didn’t appear to be a clear pattern to the packages, which have been showing up at homes in the city, suburbs, and in rural areas. The number of packages being reported also varied. In Indiana, for instance, an official with the state attorney general’s office said it had received only a handful of reports, while in Ohio, officials have received roughly 150 calls about the packages over the past month. “We have done some researching and it does appear that these seeds are tied with an online scam called ‘brushing’,” the Whitehouse Police Department in Ohio – one of the states where the packages reportedly have been sent – posted on Facebook. “A brushing scam is an exploit by a vendor used to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then submitting positive reviews on the receiver’s behalf under the guise of a verified owner. “Although not directly dangerous, we would still prefer that people contact us to properly dispose of the seeds,” the department added. North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also reported the deliveries were “likely the product of an international Internet scam.” It’s not the first time this type of scam has surfaced. In 2018, a Massachusetts couple who kept receiving mystery packages from Amazon containing items ranging from USB-powered humidifiers to rechargeable dog collars feared they were being targeted. Here’s how the scam works: a seller trying to boost the ratings of their own merchandise sets up a fake email account to create an Amazon profile, then purchases the items with a gift card and ships them to the address of a random person. Once the package is delivered, the owner of the Amazon account is then listed as a “verified buyer” of the product and can write a positive review of it that gets higher placement on product pages because of their status, James Thomson, a former business consultant for Amazon told the Boston Globe at the time when asked about the couple’s deliveries. However, the deliveries of the plant seeds are more widespread and it’s not immediately clear which e-commerce website the fake reviews may be appearing on, if this is the motive behind the packages. On Monday, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesperson Michael Wallace told the New York Times that the agency has received “over 900 emails and several hundred telephone calls” from people who claimed to have received the seeds. Officials in Florida say they have gotten 160 reports about the seeds. And in Louisiana, Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain told the New York Times that some of the packages sent to residents there appear to contain seeds for water lily plants. “Obviously they’re not jewelry,” Lori Culley, a resident from Tooele, Utah, said to Fox13 after receiving one of the packages. “At this time, we are not sure what the seeds are and therefore are urging everyone to be exceedingly vigilant,” Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black also said in a statement. “If you have received one of these packages in the mail, please use extreme caution by not touching the contents and securing the package in a plastic bag.”

Indeed..  We’ll keep an eye on this developing story, and the possible national security implications from China, who is becoming more and more of a threat to us.

Towing scams, here’s how to avoid falling victim to one

A new campaign from the National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning drivers to be wary of rogue tow truck drivers who prey on accident victims. The insurance industry-backed organization says it is getting frequent reports of scammers who show up at accident scenes falsely claiming that they were sent by an insurance company or called by the police and then overcharge for services that aren’t always covered, sometimes acting belligerent toward uncooperative car owners. According to an NICB spokesperson, “rogue towing” is particularly common in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City, and it is both an insurance fraud and a safety issue. A series of public service announcements offers several tips to drivers on how to avoid or deal with a suspicious situation, including: – Never give permission to tow your vehicle, or even deal with an unsolicited operator who arrived without being called by you or the police. – Do not give tow truck drivers insurance or personal lien holder information. – Confirm that the signage on the tow truck matches the information on any paperwork they provide. If a truck does not have signage, ask the driver for company information. – Ask to be provided with documentation showing prices, including storage fees, and the location where the vehicle is being towed before they hook it up. – Call the police if you have any concerns about the tow operator’s legitimacy.

Good advice..

How to spot job scams online and avoid losing money

Job seekers, beware. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning of fake job postings, scam recruiter emails and work-at-home schemes. According to the bureau, these scams often begin with an email or text Opens a New Window. from a supposed employer asking you to apply for a job or help wanted ad, often using real company names or government agencies. Some victims of the scam reported doing fake interviews through a video chat service, the agency said. It added that job offers without an interview are also more likely to be a scam. The agency warned these fake companies could charge you upfront for training or ask for your personal and banking information Opens a New Window. for a credit check or to set up direct deposit. They could also ask you to buy expensive supplies or equipment, or the company could claim you were “accidentally” overpaid and ask you to wire back the difference. “No legitimate job would ever overpay an employee and ask for money to be wired elsewhere,” the agency warned. “This is a common trick used by scammers.” The BBB advised keeping an eye out for jobs that are more likely to be scams such as secret shopper or work-from-home positions or jobs that don’t need special training or have generic job titles. “If the job posting is for a well-known brand, check the real company’s job page to see if the position is posted there. Look online; if the job comes up in other cities with the exact same post, it’s likely a scam,” the bureau said. The BBB also recommended getting details confirmed in a contract before paying a job recruiter to help you get a job. “Be cautious sharing personal information or any kind of pre-payment,” it said. “Be careful if a company promises you great opportunities or big income as long as you pay for coaching, training, certifications or directories.”

Sage advice..

Suckers beware: Your $10 reusable steel drinking straw may be counterfeit

As several cities take aim at reducing their carbon footprint by banning plastic straws, one company says there’s a new problem that could soon plague the U.S.: counterfeit reusable straws. FinalStraw sought to create a collapsible, stainless steel straw that consumers could reuse. The straw even comes with a carrying case. However, Emma Cohen, the company’s co-founder, told BuzzFeed News on Monday that counterfeiters flooding websites like Amazon and eBay are creating an issue. “The whole purpose was to reduce waste,” Cohen said, adding the counterfeit straws created a “bigger waste problem.” Searches across Amazon and eBay found that knockoff stainless steel straws were prevalent, according to BuzzFeed News. While FinalStraw intends to sell its item for $20 apiece, other places were selling theirs for $10. Cohen and co-founder Miles Pepper reported more than 200 listings on Amazon, eBay and Alibaba were using FinalStraw’s promotional photos to advertise the knockoffs. FinalStraw doesn’t have a listing on these websites because its final product won’t be ready until November, according to BuzzFeed News. Those who have bought the counterfeit straws have complained to FinalStraw about their purchases falling apart. “People are just genuinely confused,” Cohen told BuzzFeed News. “Some are angry and upset.” Pepper said the company plans to go after the straw sellers after its trademark and patent applications go through. The race for an alternative straw version was kicked off when cities like San Francisco and Seattle announced plans to reduce the use of plastic straws at restaurants. San Francisco became the largest U.S. city last month to ban restaurants and retailers from providing customers with plastic straws. Businesses in the city will have to meet the new guidelines by January 1, 2020. Disney and Starbucks have also announced plans to ban plastic straws.

If FinalStraw and other similar companies want to market such a product, then we’re all for it!  The free market is the place to address this issue; NOT by the fascist Democrat politicians telling us what we can and cannot use to drink a beverage with.  That said…  This is the insanity that happens when we allow political correctness to take over our lives.  Thankfully, I live in a city that still allows plastic straws.  Unreal..

Facebook scams are on the rise, new report says

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is the latest to chime in with a recent alert about scammers who use Facebook Messenger to trick victims. In its Scam Tracker alert, the BBB said it has “received dozens of reports” about scammers using Facebook Messenger to promote phony grants. The key to the scam is the seeming familiarity of the sender: a friend, family or relative. The scammers often do two things, according to the BBB. They will either hack into your account or create a “lookalike profile” by stealing your photos and personal information. “Either way, scammers are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know,” the BBB said. Echoing the BBB alert, this week, Beth Anne Steele with FBI’s Portland office wrote about a personal experience with Facebook messenger. In her post, Steele said that she got a message that looked like it came from a friend. The message included a video link that read: “Hey I saw this video. Isn’t this you?” She didn’t click on the link but was contacted the next day by the friend who said the scammers had hacked his account and that the link contained a virus. There are variations on these friend-and-family scams on Twitter and other social networks. On Twitter, for example, a scammer will send you a tweet purportedly from a person you follow that uses phraseology such as “someone is saying bad things about you” or “someone is spreading rumors about you.” “Scammers use two rules of thumb to lure victims. The first is to gain the confidence of their target through lent credibility…a friend, authority figure, or organization that the victim is likely to trust. The second rule of thumb scammers use is to create a sense of urgency; they want you to act now,” James Lerud, head of the behavioral research team at cybersecurity firm Verodin, said..

Just another reason I don’t use FB..  For more, click on the above..