PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Imagine receiving endless Amazon boxes you didn’t order, piled so high on your front step the delivery driver can’t even get to your door anymore.
That’s what happened to Cindy Smith. And she’s not alone.
“They came from everybody,” Smith said. “FedEx, Amazon, all of them were delivering boxes."
In all, more than 100 Amazon boxes randomly arrived at her home in Prince William County. The boxes contained about 1,000 headlamps for running and biking, 800 glue guns and dozens upon dozens of children’s binoculars.
All the deliveries were sent to “Lixiao Zhang” at Smith’s address. When asked if “Lixiao Zhang” lived at the address Smith replied simply “no.”
It wasn’t the first time WUSA9 heard a story like this.
“It was two rows almost up to the covering the door,” said Liz Geltman of Northwest D.C.
In May, Geltman said this happened to her too.
“Like these big towering blocks of you know, you know, children's blocks of Legos all the way up to the covering the door of my house,” she said.
Geltman was receiving boxes of children’s sheets and no explanation from Amazon about why.
Smith had a hunch.
“We initially thought it was a brushing scam,” Smith said.
“Brushing” is when an online vendor creates a fake sale of their own product, sending the package to a random address, all so they can boost their rating with a 5-star review.
But when WUSA9 took a closer look at the Amazon packaging slips Smith was receiving, it appeared this was an entirely different vendor scheme. The packing slips showed the boxes were all “vendor returns” to Lixiao Zhang sent to Smith’s address. WUSA9 traced the addresses on all those packing slips to 15 Amazon Warehouse Fulfillment Centers in nine different states.
“It all boils down to money,” said CJ Rosenbaum, a New York Attorney that represents companies that sell on Amazon. “You have sellers located in China, who are just picking random addresses. And then when they need to get their products out of Amazon's warehouses, they're just having them sent there, because it's just cheaper for them to do so.”
After WUSA9 started asking questions, Amazon launched an investigation and discovered the seller, Lixiao Zhang, violated Amazon policy by creating removal orders with Cindy Smith’s address. =The same thing happened in Liz Geltman’s case although with a different vendor.
A spokesperson sent WUSA9 a statement:
“Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior by sellers, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity. The seller account that was engaged in this abusive activity has been closed. There is no place for fraud at Amazon and we will continue to pursue all measures to protect our store and hold bad actors accountable.”
Rosenbaum said he saw an opportunity for good in all this.
“The one thing I haven't seen, which I would love to see is for these products to be donated to charitable organizations,” Rosenbaum said,
Smith tried to do just that. An environmental science professor and conservationist, Smith was determined not to let all the items sent to her end up in a landfill.
“A lot of people told me I was weird,” Smith said. “I would drive around with headlamps and glue guns in the car. I gave them to everybody I met.”
And with dozens of Amazon boxes still stacked in her basement, Smith is relieved no more shipments from Lixiao Zhang will be showing up at her door.
WUSA9 followed up with Amazon and asked how often overseas sellers use other people’s addresses to avoid paying Amazon to dispose of old stock. The company did not give us an answer to that question.