Packets of mysterious, unasked-for seeds are circulating within the postal system, having now landed at doorsteps in all 50 states. Although government officials lack concrete leads to explain the sudden seed onslaught, they suspect a scam afoot — a scam that may involve some shadowy seed purveyor leaving hyper-enthusiastic reviews on Ebay, in your name. Cringe.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the unsolicited seed packets appear to have come from China, although China’s foreign ministry says the shipping labels were forged. Still, according to seed recipients, the packaging sometimes advertises jewelry, a shiny enticement to open the envelope and free the seeds. One Allison Parrell told DCist that her surprise delivery was billed as “stud earrings,” a cunning disguise that masked strange, pale seeds sealed in plastic. “They were small, unlike any seeds I’ve seen,” Parrell recalled, adding:“I’m a gardener, so I feel like I’ve seen quite a few seeds.”
There are also quite a few types of seeds bouncing around out there: Some people have reported small, dark, pellet-like seeds, while others have received flat seeds that look like they came out of a squash, and still others came up with seeds that resemble lentils. Some of the seeds, according to the New York Times, have been confirmed as cabbage, hibiscus, lavender, mint, morning glory, mustard, rose, rosemary, and sage — a “mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed species” that does not account for all the samples the USDA has collected so far.
Regardless, USDA officials beg you, please, not to plant any seeds “from unknown origins,” because doing so could introduce invasive species into the country. As the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has warned, invasive species can “wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops.”
But definitely, contact your State plant regulatory official or APHIS State plant health director about any unexpected seed deliveries, because it’s possible you’ve been implicated in a “brushing scam.” As scams go, this one sounds relatively benign: Often, CNN reports, third-party vendors can only post product reviews for fulfilled orders. To manufacture the illusion of customer satisfaction, these sellers may spam random people with goods they never asked for, and then slap their names on effusive reviews. “When people get a package that they didn’t order, that’s one of the first things that we suspect,” the Better Business Bureau’s chief communications officer, Katherine Hutt, told CNN. The USDA says that it doesn’t “have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’” at this time.
If the seeds turn up in your mailbox, an embarrassing Amazon review may be the worst thing that happens. Personally, though, I would not expect to get off that easily; not now that we know how much chaos demon seed can create.
This story has been updated.