Beware of Amazon Packages You Didn't Order—It Could Be a Scam Villalba Villalba / Villalba

Plenty of things can go wrong when you’re ordering from Amazon, or any other online retailer. Your package could get lost or stolen, or arrive far later than you anticipated. Now you can add one more concern to that list: receiving Amazon packages you didn’t order.

As Clark Howard reports, there’s an e-commerce scam going around called brushing, in which sellers use fake accounts to buy their own products, then mail them to unsuspecting people. This is all a roundabout way of ensuring they can write positive reviews for their own products, thereby giving their items a boost in Amazon’s search results.

The good news is that you’re legally allowed to keep any items sent to you, as Lifehacker points out. The Federal Trade Commission states, “If you receive merchandise that you didn’t order, you have a legal right to keep it as a free gift.” This is meant to protect consumers from dodgy companies that send you stuff and then demand payment, which is illegal, but the latest scam complicates matters.

That brings us to the bad news. If you’re the victim of a brushing scam, that means your personal information—your name and shipping address, at the very least—have likely been compromised. Secondly, many of these “phantom sellers” don’t include a return address or order number on the package. If they were to mail an illegal product such as drugs or weapons to your doorstep, you could find yourself in some legal trouble. The best thing to do is to report unordered merchandise to Amazon to make them aware of the problem.

Of course, there are also far less insidious explanations for why you received a package you didn’t order. It could be a gift, especially at this time of year. The buyer chooses whether or not to include a gift receipt, but they still may have intended it to be a present even if they didn't tick the "gift receipt" box. It could also be an honest mix-up. For instructions on how to return a gift or wrong order, visit Amazon's Returns Center.

Let's say you received an Amazon package that’s addressed to a different person, though. In that case, you can contact Amazon and offer to return it. Keep in mind that the company is obligated to pay for any shipping costs you would incur. In some cases, they might even tell you to keep the package, according to Lifehacker. Consider it a reward for trying to do the right thing (and hope there's something good in there)!

[h/t Clark Howard]