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Investigators believe that third-party sellers on Amazon are buying their own products in order to leave a wonderful five-star review, then using victims’ names and addresses to appear as independent customers.

Scammers find new ways to commit fraudulent acts all the time; it seems like it happens daily. Some of their methods are so sinister they are immediately taken as a threat, while others seem a lot less alarming on the surface.

One newly reported scam looks a lot less like a potentially harmful crime and a whole lot more like a generous friend or family member, but it could be a sign of trouble.

It’s scary because victims may not even know they’re part of something underhanded.  Called a “brushing scam,” box after box of “free” goods show up on their doorsteps, causing them to feel like they just won the lottery instead of being targeted by scammers. One couple found out they were victims of a brushing scam after countless boxes began arriving from Amazon, filled with a seemingly random assortment of items.

The victims are not charged for the items in questions, but also can’t stop the items from being shipped. Scammers engage in this behavior in an effort to make the purchase look genuine and avoid violating Amazon’s terms for reviewing one’s own products.

Again, some people might not think of this as being “victims” of a scam. After all, you’re not being charged for the items, no one has touched your credit card (that you know of), and technically, these items aren’t even stolen since the seller is the one who purchased them. Wouldn’t it be neat if some of those boxes contain some new gadgets?

The reality, though, is being involved in a brushing scam means that someone has gained access to your name, mailing address, and potentially other information. What else are they doing with it? Depending on how they accessed your information, they could be privy to a lot more of your personally identifiable information than you realize.  Other crimes, such as hacking into a retail website where you legitimately placed an order so scammers can get your data, may have led to your information being used in a brushing scam.

If you begin receiving packages that are addressed to you but you did not order, contact the retailer immediately. Then change your passwords on your online accounts, just in case the scammer got your address by hacking an account. If the volume of shipments becomes a problem, such as the case of the victims in Arizona, you can contact the post office for help with holding packages until you can pick them up or otherwise handle the matter.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Unfortunately, the rise of internet dating sites and their widespread acceptance means more and more scammers are using that approach to find victims.

There are a few ways that you can spot a scam before you become a victim, though. By being smart about protecting yourself and your information, you can keep a scammer at bay.

1. Too close, too soon – In any online relationship, be careful of individuals who want to take things a little too fast. It might be that they start using pet names, talk of long-term relationships, or insist on sharing personal details or photographs too soon. At the same time, if they are too quick to invite you to talk to them outside the dating platform—meaning your communications are not accessible by the sitethat connected you—be very concerned.

2. Phone is no guarantee – Believe it or not, there are customer service call centers that scammers can subscribe to in order to make phone calls to their victims. Just as a company can hire a phone service to take phone messages or handle customer service requests,scammers can hire shady phone services to pose as your new boyfriend or girlfriend on the phone. That’s why speaking on the phone is no guarantee that this relationship is valid.

3. Odd situations that prevent connecting – It’s inconvenient to have your new victim constantly harassing you just to talk about their day, which is why so many common romance scams involve individuals who are not near a computer during their jobs. What does that mean? Jobs like off-shore oil rig worker, long-distance truck driver, and even worse, US soldiers deployed overseas are all common tactics for scammers. With so many victims to keep straight in their phony relationships, they can’t devote all their time to you; be careful of an online relationship involving someone whose job keeps them away from communication for days at a time.

4. And then the money request… – Inevitably, the real reason for the scam comes out: a request for money. It could be needing funds to come visit you, funds to keep their (non-existent) child out of trouble, a request for you to use “their” bank account to help them out of a bind, or even outright extortion if you’ve sent them compromising photos of yourself. No matter how it plays out, the ultimate goal in a romance scam is to take your money.

In any relationship, whether face-to-face or online, if you’re asked to hand over money or personal information without some form of legitimate, legal commitment, be careful. It should make you think twice, and make you cautious about the relationship as a whole. Don’t waste your time on scammers who want to cause you and your finances harm; just remember that there are real, viable relationships to be made online, and be smart about protecting yourself.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.