Maybe you didn’t trade the family cow for them. Maybe you didn’t even ask for them. But if you plant them, bad things will happen.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t climb the beanstalk.
In Utah, the great seed invasion began the day before Pioneer Day. A Plant Industry Division spokesman told the Deseret News more than 125 households in Utah received strange seeds during the week in the mail. They look sort of like spinach seeds, but not exactly.
“But what really set me off,” one recipient in Bountiful said, “was that they were labeled as earring studs.”
Utah isn’t the only place where these packages are appearing. News reports say random people in all 50 states have reported them and turned them over to state agriculture officials.
A lot of them appear to be coming from China. A Fox News report said they seem to have been shipped from China’s state-owned postal company in packages labeled as anything from jewelry to toys. An official in Louisiana told the New York Times they looked like seeds for water lily plants.
We’ve been conditioned to expect subterfuge from foreign countries during an election year. We’ve learned to become wary of electronic attempts to steal our identities or give up credit card numbers. Spy movies have taught us the value of searching lampshades and even plants for, well, plants.
But strange seeds? This seems like an old-world, slow motion, agrarian-age way to commit mischief — something more suitable to the 19th century than pandemic-weary 2020.
Unless, maybe, someone is trying to build up fake product reviews.
As strange as that sounds, state and federal officials across the land say the seeds may be part of what’s known as a “brushing scam.” This is when someone selling a product uses a fake email account to set up an Amazon profile, then buys his or her own items with a gift card and sends something to a random person. When the product is delivered, the Amazon account and fake email are listed as a “verified buyer.” The scammer then writes a positive review that, because it’s from a verified buyer, ranks higher on product pages than other reviews.
The hope is that the reviews will entice someone to purchase the product. If so, they never get whatever they thought they bought. The seller takes the money and disappears into cyberspace.
Even snopes.com, the fact-checking site, lists this as a possible motive for the mysterious seeds, while adding, “but the specific motive behind them is as yet unknown.”
If brushing seems like an elaborate and time-consuming way to scam people, you can file it, along with a lot of other things, under evidence that some people could expend half as much energy for good as they do for bad and qualify for sainthood.
And yet, brushing seems like such an unsatisfying answer. These scams don’t generally target thousands of people nationwide, and no one has pinpointed which fake product is being promoted.
Some officials are holding onto the idea that this is agricultural terrorism. Utah agriculture officials warn the seeds, if planted, could harm ecosystems on public lands, which is no small threat in an environment as dry and sensitive as Utah’s.
Whatever is motivating the seed invasion, it’s true the world is full of cons. Some of these target everyday people. Some target governments or democratic institutions. Some target both at the same time. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates counterfeit trade, including scams that lure you into buying things you never get, is a half-trillion dollar industry.
The pandemic has made this worse as criminals prey on our fears.
Getting back to the lessons from fairy tales, the best course is to view every unfamiliar grandmother as if she were a big bad wolf in disguise. Make sure you leave crumbs so you can find your way back, and try not to get eaten.
Above all, don’t plant strange seeds someone sends you.
Oh yeah, and don’t stick them in your ears as studs, either.