Don’t Plant Or Pitch Mailed Mystery Seeds

A Texas A&M plant expert says they could be part of a “brushing scam.'”

By Michael MarksAugust 3, 2020 12:41 pm

Across the country, small packets of seeds have been showing up, unsolicited, in people’s mailboxes and at their front doors. The origin of the packages – where they came from, who sent them and why – is unclear.

Professor Kevin Ong, director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab at Texas A&M University, is trying to get to the bottom of this strange trend.

“When it initially occurred, we did not know what type of seed this was,” Ong told Texas Standard Host David Brown. “The USDA and Texas Department of Ag was very concerned that it might be weeds […] or seeds that could possibly harbor pathogens that could be detrimental to our agriculture and our natural resources.”

On July 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a memo identifying the types of seeds found in the packets. They all contained different herbs, fruits and vegetables. The USDA also warned of a potential “brushing scam,” in which a vendor might send out packages to registered online shoppers and fraudulently use their email addresses to write favorable reviews.

“If you do purchase online stuff, and you did receive one of those packages, you might want to check your account to make sure it was not accessed or hacked or even change your password,” Ong said.

The packets could also potentially contain invasive species of weeds, which could create problems for farmers and homeowners.

“The main message we want folks to understand is, if you do get one of these packets, number one: do not plant those seeds,” Ong said. “Number two: don’t just toss them away in the trash, because even in tossing them away in the trash, and having it to take to a landfill, there is the possibility those seeds could escape and start growing.”

Instead, Ong said recipients should put the seeds in a sealed plastic bag and contact the Texas Department of Agriculture or the USDA for instructions. He said Texas is currently dealing with a backlog of inquiries about the seeds.

Web story by Sarah Gabrielli.

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