HARRISBURG, Pa. - Agriculture officials in multiple states issued warnings this week about unsolicited shipments of foreign seeds and advised people not to plant them.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding warned consumers Tuesday to properly discard and report unordered and mislabeled seeds shipped from overseas.
Redding added that seeds labeled as jewelry are like a scam known as "brushing," in which companies boost their online sales by purchasing their own products through fake buyer accounts they created. The products are they shipped to a real address of someone who didn't order them.
"In the past, scammers have sent empty packages. Recent packages have been filled with unlabeled seeds," Pennsylvania officials added in a release.
In Kentucky, the state agriculture department was notified that several residents received unsolicited seed packets sent by mail that appeared to have originated in China, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. The types of seeds are unknown and could be harmful, he said.
The commissioner stressed that the seeds should not be planted. If the packaging has been opened, consumers are asked to double bag them and securely seal the bags.
“We don’t know what they are, and we cannot risk any harm whatsoever to agricultural production in the United States," he said. “We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world and we need to keep it that way.”
Anyone receiving packages of foreign or unfamiliar seeds should contact the state agriculture department immediately.
“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism," he said. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment."
Several other states have also received suspicious packages of seeds that appear to have originated from China, news outlets reported.
In North Carolina, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it was contacted by numerous people who received seed shipments they did not order. The agency said the shipments were likely the product of an international internet scam known as “brushing.”
“According to the Better Business Bureau, foreign, third-party sellers use your address and Amazon information to generate a fake sale and positive review to boost their product ratings,” said Phil Wilson, director of the state's Plant Industry Division.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.