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Mystery Seeds From China refers reports that United States citizens receiving unsolicited packages from China containing unknown seeds. While some expressed concerns about the motives behind the packages, officials believe that it may be part of a "brushing scam" in which a merchant sends unordered, low-value items and publishes reviews under the recipient's name. These reviews give the merchant a boost in search algorithms, like those found on Amazon.com.
In July 2020, some Americans began reporting unsolicited deliveries of seeds in parcels with postmarks from China. On July 24th, 2020, the verified Washington State Department of Agriculture Facebook  published a warning about the seeds. They wrote, "Today we received reports of people receiving seeds in the mail from China that they did not order. The seeds are sent in packages usually stating that the contents are jewelry. Unsolicited seeds could be invasive, introduce diseases to local plants, or be harmful to livestock." The post received more than 661,000 shares, 25,000 reactions and 21,000 comments in less than one week (shown below).
That day, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services published a statement on the seeds. They wrote:
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has been notified that several Virginia residents have received unsolicited packages containing seeds that appear to have originated from China. The types of seeds in the packages are unknown at this time and may be invasive plant species. The packages were sent by mail and may have Chinese writing on them.
Please do not plant these seeds. VDACS encourages Virginia residents who have received unsolicited seeds in the mail that appear to have Chinese origin to contact the Office of Plant Industry Services (OPIS) by submitting a report to the Unsolicited Seed Package Reporting Tool or to the ReportAPest@vdacs.virginia.gov email.
Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.
Residents in the United Kingdom also reported that they had received seeds from China.
On July 25th, 2020, the fact-checking website Snopes  rated the reports as "mixed." While they confirmed the accounts of people receiving the seeds, they said, "The precise motive behind these mailings, and whether or not it is a malicious one, is not yet known."
Some online joked about the seeds. On July 30th, Facebook group OldtimersPage posted a picture of the monstrous plant from the film Little Shop of Horrors with the caption, "When you plant those seeds from China." The post received more than 18,000 shares,16,000 reactions and 1,000 comments in less than 24 hours (shown below, right).
Some officials believe that the seeds are part of a "brushing scam." On July 30th, Fortune wrote:
The USDA and FBI are still investigating the packages--which reportedly include seeds for grass, cucumbers, and melon--but the growing consensus among law enforcement is that they are part of a "brushing" scam.
Brushing is a shady way to boost the popularity of an online merchant by sending out unsolicited packages containing items of little value. The merchant--or more commonly a "brusher" middleman who they pay--writes positive reviews using the names of the recipients.
The goal is to appear higher in the search rankings of online platforms like Amazon.
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