Brushing up against the law

Chinese lighter from an Amazon brushing scam

Yesterday, I received this Amazon package with an electric arc lighter that claims to be windproof. That would be perfect for the Tri-Cities! But, this was weird. I didn’t order a lighter.

In fact, I didn’t even know that an electric arc lighter was a thing. Where have I been? But I digress. I didn’t order it, no one in my house ordered it, and no orders showed up on my Amazon account. So, I asked my brother (who is known to order random things for himself and others) if he had ordered it. No, he hadn’t either.

What in the world? I do a quick search and find that I’m the “victim” of something called brushing. In fact, most articles I read called it a “brushing scam” intended to increase Amazon reviews. At first, I was inclined to believe that it was a scam. After all, someone randomly sends me a product I didn’t want and how did they get my name, number, and address? But, after a few minutes I realize I’m old enough to remember a time when people used something called the Phone Book. This Phone Book had a list of people’s names, phone numbers, and mailing addresses unless you specifically opted out. And, occasionally, companies would use this information to solicit your business. It was called direct mailing, which happens to have a looong history.

Montgomery Ward and Sears were the biggest direct mailers of the 20th century. They sent gigantic catalogues far and wide so you could place orders through them. Other people caught on and moved beyond paper advertising to mailing samples, but the samples were usually something pretty small. Pens from an office supply company, perfume samples from a fragrance company, or hygiene products. I seem to remember receiving a pack of matches in the mail at some point.

So, what’s the difference between brushing and direct mailing? As far as I am concerned, there are two key differences between direct mail advertising and “brushing”: one, with direct mail you know who’s sending you the product: and two, you don’t get “direct mail” through a third party like Amazon.

(After thinking about it a little more, I do recall an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer was trying to stop the “junk mail” from coming to his mailbox… so maybe it’s not all that different.)

On the other hand, these two distinctions could be pretty important. For the lighter, I have no good idea who the manufacturer or seller is. This could be vital information for a company selling flammable devices. Clearly, the lighter is a knockoff of Zippo, but I went to their website (I’m not giving them a backlink here) and see they are a…

…professional manufacturer and supplier of a variety of electronic consumer devices under well known brands such as: … arc lighter and waterproof covers. Located in North America, we have been engaged in research & development, manufacturing and distribution of electronic products for years. … always striving to provide a complete line of equipment for the variety of brands that we own. 

Lol. Located in North America? Engaged in research and development? A variety of brands? This didn’t tell me much, so I went to ICANN and saw that their nameserver is in China and registered by Alibaba. Now their name makes a lot more sense. Then I went to the Amazon listing and got a little confused by this:

Explore it indoors
Never worry, if you’re well prepared.
You will see how important to reserve lighters when you need to light something.
Stock a lighter. Hold a starter.

Ok, that’s confusing. I’m not sure what that means. Except that they don’t have a native English speaker writing their content, which is something super common on Amazon.

So, I have two takeaways and two questions.

First, this doesn’t appear to be a scam. However, I’m not interested in receiving or using a product from foreign companies that don’t have a US presence: the customer service is either non-existent or horrible. Especially when it comes to exploding batteries and things catching on fire. Second, I don’t like receiving free stuff, not even 10-cent flowers from the Hare Krishna (name that book).

As for the questions, what Phone Book are these “direct mailers” using? And how can I opt out?

P.S. I would give it 2 or 3 stars. The material is pretty cheap and the cap doesn’t come back far enough. But the arc is cool.

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