The Arkansas Agriculture Department has joined several other states in issuing a warning about reports of people receiving unsolicited packages of seeds that appear to have been mailed from China.
The type of the seeds isn’t known yet and agricultural officials warn they might be invasive plant species. The Agriculture Department encourages anyone who receives such seeds to put an unopened packet in a sealed bag and contact the Plant Industries Division at 501-225-1598.
The mystery seeds have been widely reported around the U.S. and in the United Kingdom.
An Arkansas department spokesman said it had not yet received any seeds but it had received calls and emails from Arkansans who have received them.
Snopes fact-checkers looked into it.
The reports started in Washington state. Some of the packages said they contained jewelry. Snopes reported some 40 cases of people receiving the packages in Utah.
What’s the angle? Snopes wrote:
Explanations from drug smuggling to attempts to trick Americans into planting harmful invasive species have been mooted, although a somewhat different motive has also been suggested: “Better Business Bureau’s Jane Rupp has another theory. She thinks it could simply be a scam relating to customer reviews, in which companies post low-cost items so they can write fake reviews for their business in a resident’s name.”
As U.S. News & World Report explained, the “Fake Listing Scam” is employed by disreputable sellers on sites such as Amazon.com, as they attempt to build up false reputations as reliable vendors in order to facilitate luring victims to their scams:
[T]here have been some cases of criminals buying their own products and shipping it to a real address. The con artist then writes a fake review, purportedly from the buyer the product was shipped to. Why does the thief go to the trouble? To make it look like a “verified” review, since the review came from a “buyer” who bought the product.
“Amazon is continuously developing algorithms to automatically detect these merchants, but it also relies on consumer awareness,” [Kevin Lancaster, CEO of ID Agent] says. And what really can throw people off is that sometimes these con artists build up a couple months of legitimate sales, making a con artist’s products appear reputable, Lancaster says. “People buy from the fake listings, and instead of receiving a product in a few weeks, the scammer has already made off with the money,” he explains.
At this juncture it appears true that the mysterious mailings of seeds sent with return addresses in China are real, but the specific motive behind them is as yet unknown.
Whatever you do, if you get the seeds, don’t plant them.