WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — It’s more than just unwanted junk mail that’s filling up some mailboxes across the country. Unordered packets of seeds are being mailed to unsuspecting people, including several in northeastern and central Pennsylvania.
“I just got this in the mail,” Mary Gelsleichter said.
Gelsleichter thought it was an online purchase.
“Because I order online obviously with the pandemic going on,” she said.
But she didn’t order a packet of tiny, black seeds from China delivered to her last week.
“That’s kind of a little scary but again, I guess with the online stuff that’s going around, like you order everything online it’s easy to track you and obviously send things out,” said Gelsleichter
Gelsleichter told Eyewitness News that soon after she received the seeds, she started browsing on Facebook and found out friends in other states also did.
She’s not even the only one in northeastern and central Pennsylvania to receive a similar packet of seeds. Another woman named Mary told the Eyewitness News Facebook page she got hers from China in a packet marked costume jewelry. And a woman named Jamie says she received seeds when she was expecting a face mask.
“It looks like a seed head that was cut,” Misericordia University Assistant Professor of Biology Larry Corpus said.
Eyewitness News’ Mark Hiller showed a photo of the seeds Gelsleichter received to Corpus.
“If I got seeds from even out of state. I wouldn’t even put them in the ground. I’d basically burn them, throw them away because you’re playing right into the potential for invasive species,” said Corpus.
He fears if those seeds were to sprout, they could threaten natural habitat. Pennsylvania is among roughly three dozen states dealing with reports of foreign packages containing unlabeled seeds.
Investigators say it might be part of what’s called a “brushing scam” in which the sender is looking for a favorable online review to become a verified buyer to eventually scam consumers out of their money, their personal information or both.
“It would be interesting to get to the bottom of them to find out what’s really going on with it, if it is something that we have to worry about,” said Gelsleichter.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recommends if you receive the seeds, retain them and the packaging.
If opened, double-bag and seal the seeds. Do not plant them or discard them. Report the package to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s confidential anti-smuggling hotline at (800) 877-3835 or email SITC.Mail@aphis.usda.gov.