The first Amazon package was confusing.
Jill Madonia is an Amazon Prime member and has bought quite a few things for Christmas and a baby shower last year, but hasn’t done much shopping this year.
So she wasn’t expecting the package that arrived on her Akron porch Feb. 20.
It was a portable laptop stand.
“It was addressed to me personally at my home address,” she said. “Initially, I thought that perhaps one of my sons sent it to me as a gift. But that was not the case.”
She checked her bank accounts and found no related activity or anything fishy.
She also began researching online to see if anyone else was receiving unsolicited packages. She found discussion suggesting items being sent to valid addresses to allow the retailer to write favorable product reviews. She also found some incidents of fraudulent charges to credit cards.
Madonia reached out to me to ask what to do.
I told her I’d heard of similar reports nationwide of unsolicited packages — it even has a name, “Amazon brushing” — but had never spoken to a local customer who received one.
In other news reports, customers have said they’ve received mostly low-priced items like cable chargers, a flashlight or a Bluetooth speaker — though some have reported higher-priced items like a smart watch. One couple in Massachusetts received one to two packages a week for five months.
There’s also worry about illegal items getting delivered to people without their knowledge or permission, though there have been no reports yet.
I asked Madonia for her permission to contact Amazon on her behalf and also suggested that she call Amazon Customer Service.
The agent's “instructions were simply for me to keep the package. She also went on to reassure me that I would not be charged.”
There was no way to look up the orders because there were no packing slips and nothing showed on Madonia’s account.
Madonia told the agent her concern was more than being charged. She worried about identity theft or someone having access to her account or address.
“I was finally able to convince her to take information about the tracking number, the apparent sender, and the number written on the package above my name. She then promised to send it on to the ‘proper department.’ That's pretty much it!”
Four days after her first package arrived, two more unsolicited items came in an Amazon package on a Sunday. This time, she received a black eyeliner and a travel luggage organizer pack.
The next day, I received a short and not-very-informative statement from an Amazon spokeswoman.
“We are investigating this customer's inquiry about an unsolicited package, as this would violate our policies. We remove sellers in violation of these policies, withhold payments, and work with law enforcement to take appropriate action.”
I told the spokeswoman that two more items had arrived. She promised to look into it. In follow-up emails, she said her statement was all she could provide.
Christy Page, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Akron said there have been many reports of the unsolicited Amazon packages on the BBB’s nationwide “Scam Tracker.”
“The big question is: What’s the end game?” she said. The ability for the seller to create a fake account and then write a “verified review” that has more value than a normal review seems to be the reason, said Page.
I keep a close eye on star ratings and reviews when I’m choosing products on Amazon. I'm sure others do, too.
Of course, it’s still disconcerting for someone to get packages they didn’t request at their home. And there’s a question about whether there has been a data breach, Page said.
But that’s super hard to track, she said, and names and addresses are publicly available.
Page encourages people to still report the packages to Amazon.
“We’ve heard if Amazon knows a particular seller is abusing the system, they will take action. Now, we all know the seller will probably pop up under a new business” but it’s still important to report, she said.
“It’s just bizarre. It feels like a victimless scam, but [the sellers] are being less than honest,” she said.
Madonia tried her best to research the items she received and whether there were any connections among the three. The retailers all had different names, but the return addresses were all from a Kentucky address that seems to be an Amazon Fulfillment Center. The descriptions on the boxes don't make it easy to find the listings on Amazon, either.
There have been no charges to her bank accounts and Madonia said it finally forced her get around to freezing her credit for precautionary measures. (For information on how to freeze your credit you can go to www.tinyurl.com/BettysBestTips for my columns on topics such as credit freeze, curbing robocalls and recycling.)
Madonia hasn’t received any more packages since Feb. 24.
“I probably will at least ‘try out’ the products I have received,” she said.
But Madonia joked that she wished she would have gotten some new free tires or a prepaid Visa card.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher.