Brushing is a new type of online scam, and according to consumer group Which?, hundreds of thousands of people across the UK have so far been affected.
Targeted consumers have received mystery parcels from Amazon, containing goods that they did not order.
Which? believes the sellers of these items, are looking to exploit Amazon’s ranking system, which favours items with high sales volumes and good reviews, by sending items to people who simply did not order them.
They will then often take the scam a stage further, by creating a fake Amazon account linked to the recipient’s address, and leave a glowing review of the product that appears to have been ordered.
While receiving an unwanted item may not seem harmful, the brushing scam means that someone has created a fake account using your address. Since they have already proved they are unscrupulous, it is therefore, very likely they will sell the personal details they already have.
The number of scams and frauds has gone up significantly throughout the last few years, with the pandemic in particular helping to fuel this crime.
However, the fact that so many victims are too frightened or embarrassed to report scams, means it is hard to put a figure on how much money is being lost as a result.
This may be especially true in areas like romance scams, with people simply too ashamed to admit that they have been duped.
As long ago as 2017, the National Crime Agency put the total figure lost to fraud at £140 billion a year, and the credit agency Experian suggested it was even higher, at £193 billion.
Whatever the true figure, what cannot be underestimated, is the human cost of fraud and the erosion of trust it causes.
Which? tried to put a figure on it, suggesting the costs to victims’ well-being could be as high as £9.3 billion a year, which is the equivalent of £2,500 for every victim. They suggest that while the typical amount lost is around £600, the emotional cost is much higher, with many victims suffering from anxiety and ill health after being scammed.
Clearly, something like this is difficult to quantify, and the impact on individuals will vary considerably. What is undeniable though, is that scams and fraud will carry on increasing, and that criminals will continue to target the most vulnerable.
We should all be permanently alert and suspicious of seemingly innocuous communications, such as a text claiming to be from the Post Office saying they could not deliver a parcel, HM Revenue & Customs supposedly threatening us with prosecution, or Track and Trace asking for our details.
As we start to do our Christmas shopping online, it is perhaps time to update the old maxim, that if the Amazon reviews seem too good to be true, they almost certainly are.