Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone November 12, 2021

No evidence toxic masks are being sent in the mail, but watch out for ‘brushing’ scam

If Your Time is short

• We found no evidence of toxic masks sent in unsolicited packages from Amazon.

• There is a common scam called “brushing,” in which Amazon sellers send unsolicited packages to real addresses, so the sellers can then post fake reviews to boost their sales.

• If you receive a package you didn’t order, you should report it to Amazon and consider changing your password. You do not have to pay for or return the items. If you’re concerned about the contents, throw the package out or alert authorities.

In the fall of 2020 and early this year, there were scattered reports of Americans receiving unsolicited packages from Amazon in the mail, containing face masks, seeds, or other products from China.

A new social media post indicates it is still happening, though this one also said the recipient may have received face masks laced with a toxic substance.

A Facebook post says, "Beware everyone. There’s a scam going on. I received a package yesterday and it was something I didn’t order. I called Amazon and they said the tracking number was invalid. They also said to throw it immediately in the garbage. They said there’s a scam going on where people lace these masks with something toxic. Scary what this world is coming to."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post is from a user who lists Plattsburgh, N.Y., as the location on their profile. Police there told PolitiFact on Nov. 11 that they had not received any reports of unsolicited packages of masks laced with a toxic substance.

In 2020, reports cropped up in local media across the U.S. about people receiving unsolicited packages containing face masks or other items from China. (You can find some here, here, here and here.) 

It was likely part of what the Better Business Bureau calls a "brushing" scam, which is when sellers send unsolicited items to addresses they find online, so they can later post fake positive reviews on Amazon to improve their ratings, and ultimately, their sales.

A spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau said in an email to PolitiFact on Nov. 10 that it has not received any ScamTracker reports recently regarding toxic masks. 

The FBI’s website does not list any current consumer alerts about unsolicited packages or toxic masks.

Featured Fact-check

Snopes fact-checkers wrote in September that a viral claim from 2020 about unsolicited masks with a chemical irritant had been recirculating on social media. The claim of an irritant in the masks in that 2020 post was unverified, Snopes said.

We found no recent news reports in the U.S. of unsolicited masks coming from China. However, an October news report out of Britain suggested unsolicited packages had become a growing problem there. The story, which was also referenced in The Guardian, cited specific incidents that happened in October and December of 2020 and May of this year.

Amazon did not return a request for comment, but its customer service page urges users to report unsolicited packages and said that it "investigates reports of "brushing" and will take action on bad actors that violate our policies." 

A search of Amazon’s customer service Twitter account @AmazonHelp shows responses to several recent customer reports of unsolicited packages.

The Federal Trade Commission wrote about unsolicited packages in 2020 and said recipients do not have to pay for or return unsolicited packages, but they should consider changing their password for the site it was sent from.

If you have safety concerns about the package, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service suggests calling the police or following instructions on its suspicious-mail page.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed that there is a scam going around where people are receiving unsolicited packages of masks and that Amazon said the masks may be laced with a toxic substance.

We can find no evidence of toxic masks being sent or Amazon warning of it. Local police told us such an event wasn’t anything they had heard of either. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Amazon, Report Unsolicited Package or Brushing Scams

Amazon Help, tweet on Nov. 5

Amazon Help, tweet on Nov. 4

Better Business Bureau, email to PolitiFact, Nov. 10, 2021

Better Business Bureau, BBB Tip:"Brushing" scam indicates a serious problem for victims, Aug. 3, 2020 (article no longer live, link is from Wayback Machine)

ABC-New York, Face masks showing up in mail are part of latest scam, Feb. 3, 2021

Boston Globe, So this is why people are receiving mysterious masks in the mail, Aug. 27, 2020

The Guardian, Amazon sellers target UK with unsolicited parcels to boost sales, Oct. 28, 2021

Snopes, Did people receive unsolicited masks from China?, Sept. 28, 2021 

Yahoo News, UK, Amazon brushing scam: what is it and how widespread is it?, Oct. 29, 2021

WBTB, Charlotte, BBB warns of scam: Reports of unsolicited masks from China arriving in mail in Charlotte, Feb. 4, 2021

WFLA, NBC, Mystery masks: Unsolicited face masks from China arriving in Tampa Bay mailboxes, Aug. 10, 2020

WIS News, NBC, Columbia woman warns public after she got face masks from China she didn’t order, Aug. 18, 2020

Which?, One million households in the UK potentially hit by Amazon ‘brushing’ scams, Oct. 28, 2021

Federal Trade Commission, Getting unordered seeds and stuff in the mail?, Aug. 7, 2020

Norton Lifelock, Brushing Scams: What Are Those Mysterious Amazon Packages at Your Door?, undated article

Plattsburgh Police Department, phone call with PolitiFact, Nov. 11, 2021

United States Postal Inspection, "Brushing scam," May 5, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jeff Cercone

No evidence toxic masks are being sent in the mail, but watch out for ‘brushing’ scam

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up