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USDA investigates mysterious seed packets from China

Expert says packages are likely linked to online scam
Across the country, people are receiving mysterious packages from China. The parcels are typically small and contain low value items, most often seeds.
Across the country, people are receiving mysterious packages from China. The parcels are typically small and contain low value items, most often seeds.(WTVG)
Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 7:48 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Across the country, people are receiving mysterious packages from China. The parcels are typically small and contain low value items, most often seeds.

In the Toledo area, we have received multiple reports of people finding the packages from China in their mailboxes with things like seeds, plastic silverware, even disposable masks that they did not order.

The news sparked warnings from local police departments and now the US Department of Agriculture, along with multiple state departments of agriculture are investigation. Dan Kenny, the Plant Health Division Chief says the biggest concern is if the seeds are harmful. The Ohio Department of Agriculture, along with the USDA, is asking anyone who receives a package of the seeds to save them and report it to their offices. Kenny is also warning everyone to not plant the seeds.

At this point the USDA and local law enforcement believe this is all linked to a “brushing scam.” It is when an online retailer sends low value items out to people, who didn’t order a product, and then someone else writes a positive review on your behalf. The practice boosts an online retailer’s rating and in turn, can drive sales.

The ODA posted this information for those who get a package in the mail:

“If you receive a package of this type, please DO NOT plant these seeds. If they are in sealed packaging, do not open the sealed package. You can report the seeds to ODA online here or you may contact the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Anti-smuggling Hotline by calling 800-877-3835 or by emailing SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov. Also, if possible, please retain the original packaging, as that information may be useful to trade compliance officers as they work through this issue.

Unsolicited seeds could be invasive species, contain noxious weeds, could introduce diseases to local plants, or could be harmful to livestock. Invasive species and noxious weeds can displace native plants and increase costs of food production. ODA and APHIS work hard to prevent the introduction of invasive species and protect Ohio agriculture. All foreign seeds shipped to the United States should have a phytosanitary certificate which guarantees the seeds meet important requirements.”

On Thursday, the ODA provided the following steps for anyone who received these unsolicited seeds to return them to the USDA. Either mail the seeds with the original packaging material and your contact information in a resealable plastic bag to the USDA-APHIS at 8995 East Main St., Building 23, Reynoldsburg, Ohio, 43068; or place the seeds, original packaging materials, and your contact information in a resealable plastic bag and drop them off at your county’s OSU Extension Office during business hours.

Copyright 2020 WTVG. All rights reserved.

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