For many of us, the appearance of an Amazon package on the doorstep isn't newsworthy — just a regular part of our modern consumer life. But at an increasing number of North American addresses, the packages just keep coming with frequency and their contents just keep getting weirder and more random. Not to mention, they weren't actually ordered by anyone living or working there — nor do they contain any sort of paper trail leading to the senders.
Stories this week by The Boston Globe and CBC News uncovered a puzzling trend that's becoming more mainstream across North America — hinting at e-commerce fraud of an as-yet unknown origin. We're talking about mysterious, anonymous Amazon packages arriving at private residences and public universities, delivered by an unmarked white delivery van, unsolicited and without the normal documentation of invoices or receipts of any kind.
So, just where are these Amazon packages coming from? And why?
For one couple outside Boston, the packages containing items they don't want and didn't order — mostly USB port-driven products made in China — have been coming at a rate of once or twice a week since October. For student unions at several colleges and universities across Canada, the random deliveries include "everything from sex toys to light bulbs to record players to computer cables," they told CBC News.
A few former Amazon employees interviewed by The Globe hypothesize that the packages (confirmed by Amazon to be paid for with untraceable gift cards) may be part of a scheme to fraudulently increase "verified buyers" and "verified reviews," falsely giving the products a higher rating within the e-commerce platform's "all-important buyer reviews system."
The recipients of the anonymous packages found them at first to be a source of amusement and now find them to be more creepy than fun.
Regardless, the recipients of the anonymous packages found them at first to be a source of amusement and now find them to be "more creepy than fun." Plus, they're a nuisance in the amount of space they take up while Amazon gets to the root of the problem — not knowing whether the products need to be kept as evidence and later returned, or simply donated or given away.
When contacted yesterday by Apartment Therapy for comment on this sensitive but important consumer protection topic, an Amazon spokesperson said:
"We investigate every report of customers receiving unsolicited packages, and thus far our investigations have shown very few reviews submitted associated with these shipments. We will continue our ongoing efforts to prevent abuse and will ban all vendors and reviewers who abuse the reviews system.
Customer reviews are one of the most valuable tools we offer customers for making informed purchase decisions and we work hard to make sure they are doing their job. We've introduced a machine learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews, applied stricter criteria to qualify for the Amazon verified purchase badge, increased the dollar amount on the participation requirement and suspended, banned, or sued thousands of individuals for attempting to manipulate reviews.
As bad actors get smarter, so do we. Amazon is constantly innovating to protect the customer experience."
If you have been the recipient of or begin to receive these types of unsolicited, anonymous Amazon orders, the couple and students featured in The Globe and CBC News stories suggest collecting photos, bar codes, product numbers, and any other identifying information from the mystery packages before contacting Amazon customer service and reporting the potential fraud so they can properly investigate on your behalf.
But make sure to really look hard for a gift receipt or invoice first, so you don't start reporting random surprises and unwittingly get a family member, friend, or colleague in trouble with Amazon.