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Free seeds in the mail? Don't open them, experts advise

Free seeds in the mail? Keep them, but don't open them. Report them to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Free seeds in the mail? Keep them, but don't open them. Report them to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

If you receive a free packet of seeds in the mail and you didn’t send for it, don’t open it, and definitely don’t plant the seeds.

But don’t throw them out either.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture wants you to report the seeds to agr.seeds@Illinois.gov.

Provide your first and last name, phone number and number of packages you received and wait for instructions. Keep the seeds in their original packaging and labels, including mail labels.

Although no one in Illinois has reported receiving these packets, which appear to be from China, the U.S. Department of Agriculture still is collecting packets to test their contents, according to a news release from the University of Illinois Extension office.

“People are getting them. I know someone who got them,” said Nancy Kuhajda, program coordinator at the University of Illinois Extension Will County.

Kuhajda said it’s ironic people are receiving them this year, as the shelter-in-place orders have been accompanied by a renewed interest in gardening.

The concern is that the seeds might contain diseases, pests or invasive species, she said.

Officials in 27 states are asking residents to report any suspicious packets of seeds they receive, the extension office said.

In addition, these seeds might be part of a “brushing scam,” according to initial reports from the USDA, the extension office said.

In brushing scams, online sellers try to boost sales by sending unsolicited items to people and then posting fake reviews online.

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