Category: Shopping (Page 1 of 3)

Brushing Scams

Here’s a scam that you should know about, but not because it’s particularly dangerous. It’s just weird. But once you know the details about brushing scams, they won’t creep you out, and you can quickly move on from them.

Surprise‽

When an unexpected item arrives at your doorstep, it may be part of a brushing scam. The item may be lightweight or small or just plain curious: people have reported receiving packets of seeds, hand warmers, “dragon eggs“, and even Bluetooth speakers. The packaging often shows an international return address, but no further clues about the point of sale. No bill is included, no company name or URL can be spotted.

Nothing “killer” about this, just an artsy rock…

In general, the items are harmless. There have been no reports of hazardous items being shipped with this scheme. Whatever you receive, you do not have to pay for it, and you are under no obligations regarding what you do with it. Keep it. Donate it. Trash it.

Why Send Me Junk?

This scam is harmless to you specifically, because it isn’t targeting you. Certainly, someone used your mailing address in this scheme. But don’t take it personally. Your address was probably chosen at random, from any number of online public information sources.

The scam’s target is an e-commerce website. It could be Amazon, Wal*Mart, AliExpress or others. They are gaming the reviews in order to sell more merchandise. Their process is:

  • Create a new account and buy an item.
  • Have the item shipped to a random address in the USA.
  • Once the item is shipped, the new account is considered legitimate, and can leave a review. So the account holder leaves a 5-Star review on the item and for the seller.

If they repeat this over and over for a particular item/seller, that item will soon show a lot of trustworthy, 5-Star reviews, even though it may be a new listing or a shady, fly-by-night vendor. This can help encourage a lot of future sales.

Whatever it takes to sell more jewelry.

Final Takeaways

Most brushing scams give you no info to act on. But if you spot a clue on the parcel and you manage to determine what site it was purchased through, you could follow-up with that company. Don’t call any number listed on the package, but you may, for example, go to Amazon.com or Walmart.com and contact their support about the item. If they care to listen to you, you may ask that they:

  • File a fraud report for the item you received.
  • Find and remove any reviews associated with your name or address.

Brushing scams are actually incredibly effective at what they do. Amazon and similar stores are constantly battling fake reviews. But brushing reviews is where the bad guys have the upper hand. Brushed reviews are almost impossible to suss out, even with sophisticated software tools. So at the end of the day, I have to advise you: Don’t give 100% of your trust to online reviews. Sure, read them over, but take them with a grain of salt.

Fake Hard Drives for Sale

A couple of years ago, I blogged about Fake Flash Drives, and now I have to write a refresh article: You also need to watch out for Fake Hard Drives and Fake Solid State Drives. Please make sure you don’t buy these things!

Good & Bad Examples

First, some examples of legitimate, reliable storage drives:

These items are all fine choices for your data storage. Please note that they are recognizable, big-brand names within the $50-100 price range.

Now for some fakes for your consideration (PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS!):

If you regard those items, you should notice some clues that something’s not right. First, there’s no noticeable brand name, or if there is, it’s a name you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else on the web. There’s a big price disparity, too; charging a few dollars per Terabyte of storage is too good to be true.

16TB storage drives do exist, for the rare few of you that need one. If you buy a legitimate 16TB hard drive, expect to pay around $300 at the time of this writing.

Details & Dangers of Fake Drives

The dangers of this scam go beyond losing some money. Your files are at risk if you fall into this trap. These fraudulent devices are mis-manufactured to offer 16TB of storage to your computer. And your computer will believe it when you attach the drive! But there isn’t really that much storage in there. It’s more like a couple of 64GB microSD cards glued to a reader board in these sham drives.

So what happens is that you can try to put data on the device. And it will work, up to a point, but then catastrophe will strike. As your computer pipes data into an area that it thinks is huge but is really much smaller, your data will fall into oblivion. Like lemmings walking off a cliff. And this won’t be apparent until later, when you try to open or retrieve those files. Then you will meet with errors and irrevocable data loss.

Dos & Don’ts

The Too-Long;-Didn’t-Read advice I can finish up with is:

  • Do pay attention to brand names, and buy something from a recognizable manufacturer.
  • Don’t jump on amazing prices/deals. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t believe the posted reviews! Amazon and other websites are commonly gamed by the scammers, and a sham product can have thousands of 5-star reviews below it.
  • Do be judgmental about where you buy (online). Costco, Staples & Best Buy vet their vendors more than Wal*Mart, Amazon and eBay. Avoid those free-for-all marketplaces where anyone can hawk their wares.
  • Do feel free to report scam products to the website’s support team, but don’t spend a lot of your time or emotion on it. I did that 2 years ago with the flash drive debacle, and it became obvious that these big companies don’t care about or can’t fix the problem from their side.

The End of the Line for Windows 8

For those of you still using Windows 8 computers, you’ll soon meet with legitimate popup messages, as shown below:

This is not a scam, and Microsoft is telling you the truth. Windows 8 reaches the end of its lifecycle on 1/10/2023. But Don’t Panic! Here are more details to help you navigate what’s next.

You May Keep Using Windows 8

You don’t have to do anything. Your Win8 PC will keep working fine, even past 1/10/2023. But after that date, there is an unknown amount of security risk. I’m not too worried about it, but I also cannot tell you there is no risk. If you stick with Windows 8 after 1/10/2023, you must check your antivirus to make sure it is still running and updating!

Still, after that deadline, other issues may develop. Other programs, like Google Chrome, may also stop updating. And over time, with many things getting so deprecated, that could lead to unexpected security problems. You might see security errors as you load your email. You might one day be blocked from logging into your bank accounts. Zoom or Quicken or other apps may fail to load.

So while you can probably Windows 8 past its deadline, you’ll want to take action at some point before a software malfunction crops up to frustrate you. You’ve got two ways to proceed:

Option #1: Buy a New Computer

Microsoft would love for you to buy a new computer. If it’s in your budget to do so, you’ll be moving to a system with Windows 11 on it, and its lifecycle has no declared end date as of this writing. Reach out to me if you need a recommendation on what to buy from Costco or some other store you prefer.

Option #2: Upgrade Your PC to Windows 10

PCs running Windows 7 or 8 can still receive a free upgrade to Windows 10. Yes, I promise you it is a free download, it never stopped being free, despite rumors and erroneous news reports. If you want to try this:

  • Go to this Microsoft download site.
  • Under “Create Windows 10 Installation Media”, click the Download Now button.
  • Save and then Open/Run the MediaCreationTool.exe file.
  • Agree to the Licensing Agreements and choose the option to Keep Your Apps and Files, when prompted.

Please know that this undertaking could take hours to complete, especially if you are still on a slow DSL connection. The download involved are several gigabytes in size! But with enough patience, your computer will adopt Windows 10, which has a lifecycle lasting until October 14, 2025.

Pirate Ship for Cheaper Postage

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day! Have ye heard of PirateShip.com? Avast, me hearties: If yer shipping out lots of booty, say, from yer eBay or Etsy stores, this could save you lots of doubloons!

At Pirate Ship, you can create a free account for calculating and creating shipping labels for your outbound parcels. It can quickly give you all of your pricing options, through various carriers (USPS, UPS, Fedex, etc.). If you compare prices here versus the prices at the counter or website of the USPS, you’re going to see a difference. It may only be a dollar or two, but that adds up if you’re in e-commerce! Or sending out lots of holiday packages…

And again, this is a free service, with no obligations or monthly fees. You can easily price-compare between Pirate Ship, USPS, eBay and Etsy shipping, and find the one that saves you the most money.

Finding Secondhand Books

“Used books,” as if someone else has had the best of them and you get the sere husk, or the lees, as if a book isn’t the one thing, the one product, that is forever new. There’s no such thing as a used book. Or there’s no such thing as a book if it’s not being used.”

Deborah Meyler, The Bookstore

If you’re seeking a hard-to-find or out-of-print book, you may already know the websites eager to help you:

(Got another favorite book-selling website? Leave a comment and I may add it to the list!)

And there’s many other resources for finding that dead tree edition you need, like Amazon, eBay and Barnes & Noble. But when you’re searching for that one elusive tome that no one on the internet seems to have in stock, try this site and make it a little easier on yourself:

Bookfinder.com

Bookfinder will comb almost all of the book-selling websites out there for you. Search Bookfinder.com for your title and it’ll return all of your buying options and prices!

I apologize in advance if this contributes to anyone’s tsundoku.

eBay Alternatives

eBay is the age-old classic auction website. You can get almost anything there through auctions and Buy-It-Now transactions. But eBay may not be your first choice. eBay does have its share of problems, ranging from shady sellers and fraudulent merchandise to an outright scandal that involved top execs. So here are some eBay alternatives:

eBid

Bonanza

ShopGoodwill

That last one might be my favorite right now. It is owned and operated by the non-profit Goodwill of Orange County. Purchasing items on ShopGoodwill support the missions of the GoodWill Industries.

McBroken

Someone actually devised this little website, to show on a map which McDonald’s restaurants have functioning ice cream machines. And which ones have out-of-service machines. How ingenious!

This tool came about because of the high frequency of breakdowns with Mickey D’s ice cream machines. And there’s a whole story and debacle to read about that, if you have an interest.

Otherwise, just sock away the McBroken website, it may save you a trip and stave off some disappointment someday.

The National Baby Formula Shortage

Some info pertaining to the shortage of baby formula in the USA:

Scams abound! If you find an online vendor for baby formula that seems too good to be true, it may be. When possible, buy your formula from respected, large companies and not sketchy eBay auctions or brand-new websites.

Misinformation about buying from Amazon’s Canada website is circulating, and I want to debunk that before you try it. For the most part, you cannot buy baby formula from Amazon.ca, unless it is from one of their 3rd-party sellers. And those may be risky to use.

Another important resource right now is the Free Formula Exchange. If you have formula that you don’t need, please donate it through this website! And if you need formula, you can sign up and possibly connect with someone nearby who has unneeded baby formula.

And you should touch base with your pediatrician for other trusted resources that can help you get through this tough time.

Chewy’s Pet Portraits

If you’re a patron of the Chewy website, here’s some feel-good news for you: Every month, Chewy surprises random customers with portraits of their pets! You can’t request or buy these portraits, but you can feel lucky if one happens to arrive on your doorstep. Chewy reportedly sends out 1000 of these each week!

All that said, you can’t get a surprise if Chewy doesn’t know what you pet looks like. I recommend you find a favorite photo of your pet and add it to your Chewy account:

  1. Go to Chewy.com and sign into your account.
  2. Go to the Account drop-down menu in the upper-right of the website, and then click Account on the menu.
  3. On the sub-headings bar, click My Pets. If you see your pet listed, click it. Otherwise, click Add Pet and fill out the basic info for your animal.
  4. When you see your pet’s profile page, click the Edit button to the right, to reveal the Profile Icon and Cover Photo options for your pet.
  5. Click the pencil-icon on either to upload a photo of your choice.
  6. Make sure to click Save Changes at the very bottom after adding anything to this page!

If you have any trouble with this, scroll to the bottom of the Chewy website and chat with them. They are super-helpful and you might be able to send them your pet’s photo that way, as well.

Finding the Best Gas Prices

Here are various ways to use technology to find your best price on gasoline:

Dedicated Gas Search Tools

GasBuddy may be the best-known fuel-savings company, and boy howdy have they added lots of options and gimmicks to their site. You can skip all the hoopla, and just use their search tool or app, if you like.

Gas Guru is another search tool, only available as an app. The Yellow Pages is behind this tool and you can download the Android app here and the iOS app here.

GetUpside is a modified search app, that also grants you gas rebates (money back!) at select stations. So if you’re willing to go where GetUpside recommends to fill up, you can get some cash credited back to you.

GPS & Mapping Services

Mapquest is surprisingly convenient for eyeballing gas prices. Use it to view any map, and use the Gas button in the upper-left corner. Gas stations and gas prices will jump up off the page!

The Waze app (Android, iOS) is very quick to use to see local gas prices. Tap the Where To? field, and then tap Gas Stations. You now have a list of all the gas prices local to you.

Other Websites

Autoblog offers a no-nonsense gas price search tool.

Geico Insurance has a handy and uncluttered page for searching out gas prices.


If you have any other amazing ways to suss out the best fuel prices, please leave a comment or shoot me an email with your suggestions, thank you!

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