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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

More mystery seed packages arrive in San Diego

Although some of the seeds may be for seemingly harmless spices and herbs, the USDA is urging Americans not to plant them or throw them away.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Packages from China containing seeds continued to show up in mailboxes across San Diego this week. The Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures said 161 packages have been turned in by residents since June 24, when the first package arrived.

Once collected, the agency submitted them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for testing and proper disposal.

“We have identified 14 different species of seeds, including mustard, cabbage, morning glory, and some of the herbs like mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, and then other seeds like hibiscus sand roses. This is just a subset of the samples we collected so far,” said Osama El-Lissy, Deputy Administrator for the Plant Protection and Quarantine program within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA.

Most of the packages appear to have shipped from China and have customs declarations claiming to contain jewelry, toys, or other non-agriculture related items. Although some of the seeds may be for seemingly harmless spices and herbs, the USDA is urging Americans not to plant them because they could contain an invasive species or pest.

“We would like to ask that they save the seeds and the package they came in, including the mailing label,” said El-Lissy.

Investigators believe the seeds are part of a “brushing” scam and American households are unwitting participants. The scam is often used by online sellers to boost their profile. 

It works when a seller creates a fake buyer profile and uses it to purchase their own goods, often with a gift card or other untraceable payment. Instead of sending the more expensive item they purchased, it appears they’re sending cheap seeds to random addresses that are listed in the fake buyer’s profile. Once the site confirms a shipment has arrived, it “verifies” the fake account. The seller can then write an amazing review for themselves, which gives more weight to their credibility since it’s from a verified buyer.  

The Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures requests anyone who receives an unsolicited packet of seeds from China turn in the seeds and packaging material for processing and proper destruction. Opened packets should be re-sealed or double-bagged.

They ask that recipients do not throw them away because they could sprout in the landfill.

Dropboxes are located at the following addresses: 

  • 151 E. Carmel St, San Marcos 92128 
  • 9325 Hazard Way, San Diego 92123 

Or you can mail a sealed package to:  

Pest Exclusion Program
Attn: Seed Collection
151 E. Carmel St.
San Marcos 92128