The USDA has even weighed in to warn recipients not to plant them.

By Jelisa Castrodale
July 27, 2020
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When a Utah woman opened her mailbox and found two small white packages, she expected to find a pair of earrings inside. Although Lori Culley wasn't expecting any jewelry—especially jewelry shipped from China—the words "stud earrings" were clearly typed on the China Post labels.

But when she opened the vinyl envelopes, she found two small baggies filled with some kind of seeds. She posted pictures on Facebook, writing that it was "pretty scary" to receive unsolicited seeds from outside the United States, and she quickly received comments from at least 40 others who said that they'd also received mysterious packages of seeds that had been labeled "earrings" or "wire connectors" on the mailers.

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"There was an article that I found in the UK saying this has been happening over there, and they are bad seeds, they are invasive,” she told FOX 13. "I hope that it's nothing too serious. Don't throw them in the garbage. Don't plant them. Don't touch them."

Culley contacted the Utah Department of Agriculture, who echoed that advice, asking anyone who has also received a package of the seeds to reach out to them. After similar reports were received in Washington, that state's Department of Agriculture wrote on Facebook that "unsolicited seeds" should not be planted. "This is known as agricultural smuggling," the Department wrote. "Report it to USDA and maintain the seeds and packaging until USDA instructs you what to do with the packages and seeds. They may be needed as evidence."

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The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has issued its own advisory, as has the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner (who said that he was unsure whether this was a "hoax, a prank, an internet scam, or an act of agricultural bioterrorism") and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. (In addition to the previously mentioned states, unsolicited seed packages have also been reported in California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon).

Although those agencies all warned against planting the seeds over concerns that they could be invasive species, environmental threats, or worse, the Whitehouse (Ohio) Police Department suggests that this could be part of a consumer scam that shady vendors use to boost their seller ratings. "[W]e have done some researching and it does appear that these seeds are tied with an online scam called 'brushing,'" they wrote on Facebook. "A brushing scam is an exploit by a vendor used to bolster product ratings and increase visibility online by shipping an inexpensive product to an unwitting receiver and then submitting positive reviews on the receiver's behalf under the guise of a verified owner."

The president of Utah's Better Business Bureau also said that the seeds could be the work of so-called brushers. "I don’t think I’ve heard of seeds [being sent by scammers] before,” Jane Rupp said. “The first thing to do is Google your address and see what’s out there [...] Numerous things will come up when you Google your address. It’s kind of scary sometimes.”

Or you could always not do that. Ignorance, bliss, and all that probably applies here too.