News

Viral Post About Purple Hair Tie in Unsolicited Package May Have Been Brushing Scam

A young woman posted on Facebook about a strange package containing a purple hair tie, a 911 call, an Apple AirTag tracker, and "creepy white vans."

Published Aug 3, 2023

A stock photo of a purple hair tie. (Credit: Snopes.com) (Snopes.com)
A stock photo of a purple hair tie. (Credit: Snopes.com)

On June 7, 2023, a young woman whose Facebook profile said she lived in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, posted that she had received an unexpected package in the mail that contained a "little purple hair tie." Upon holding the hair tie in her hand, she said she "started feeling very weird."

By early August, the post had received nearly 100,000 shares. Some users were copying and pasting the story to share it with their friends, adding the words like, "This wasn't me just copied and pasted," or, "Be aware !!! Copied from a friend."

In the viral post, she also described an Apple AirTag tracker that had purportedly been placed near her later on the same day, apparently by a potential stalker. Additionally, she described "a weird interaction with a young girl" who had been "banging on the door" of her home, as well as "creepy white vans" that had supposedly stopped in front of her house.

Not only did the purple hair tie incident cause the young woman's mother to call 911, but police were also purportedly "investigating the situation," according to the post.

In order to confirm these details, we reached out to the young woman via Messenger, Instagram, and email. We also contacted the Fort Thomas Police Department, since a 911 call and police investigation were both mentioned in the post. We did not hear back from either party before this story was published, but will update this article if we receive more information.

Examining the Facebook Post

The full post from the young woman read as follows:

PLEASE READ!!!!!

Last week, I came home from work and had this package waiting for me at my door addressed to me and my house. I hadn't ordered anything so I was confused but opened it anyway. I opened it up and all that was in there was a little purple hair tie. I was holding the hair tie in my hand showing my mom/siblings and all the sudden started feeling very weird. Thank gosh as I was going to the ground my mom ripped the hair tie from me and wiped my hands off immediately. My mom called 911 but I started feeling better by the time they came in. The package looks like it came from South America but was from a PO Box so no real tracking of who sent this. That night I went to Lexington to watch my boyfriend play baseball and got a notification on my phone as I walked away from my parked car that there was an AirTag found near/on me. Since then, I've had other suspicious things happening like a weird interaction with a young girl coming to my house banging on the door and creepy white vans stopping in front of my house. I thought I was being completely paranoid until today my female neighbor recieved a package with the exact hair tie in it! We have police investigating the situation but just felt like I need to make all aware! Not sure what this is exactly but if you receive a random package please do not touch the items in side of them!

In the post, a picture of the package showed a return address for a location in Equatorial Guinea. The country is located in Africa, not South America as the woman's post had said. It's unclear if this was the same country from which the package originated, since a return address can be faked on a parcel label.

Some commenters said they believed the situation sounded like it involved human trafficking or sex trafficking. For example, one user, remarked, "Human trafficking is a real thing and this is a tactic they will use. Stay packing, stay alarmed."

However, to be clear, we have yet to uncover any evidence that would confirm trafficking was involved in this purported incident.

As for the post itself, it appeared that comments from the public had been partially disabled on or around Aug. 3. The post had recently received a wave of new attention in early August, thanks to a new article from the Iowa-based B100 radio station website. For example, one of the last comments on the post came from a skeptical user who had posited, "This adds up to bologna ….. things people do to try and make stuff go viral."

Was the Package a 'Brushing Scam'?

While we can't speak to various aspects of this story without first receiving responses to our inquiries, the part about the package containing the purple hair tie might have simply been part of a "brushing scam."

Here's what may have happened if this was such a scam, according to how they work: An international, third-party seller may have sent the package to the young woman's address with one of the lightest-weight items anyone could think of – a single, tiny hair tie – in order to pay the lowest shipping cost possible. The sender would do this to receive a delivery confirmation from the package delivery service (FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc.). The sender would then write a fake positive review for a completely different product (not a hair tie) on a website in the young woman's name, in order to misleadingly boost the product's review score. Since the delivery of the package had been confirmed by the service that had shipped it, that review would then be noted as being a "verified" purchase by the young woman, even though the review was in no way legitimate.

A Warning About Brushing Scams

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) published a page about brushing scams. Included in their warning was information about how such scams might "appear to be a victimless crime," but that's not likely to be the case:

This is how it works.

A person receives packages or parcels containing various sorts of items which were not ordered or requested by the recipient. While the package may be addressed to the recipient, there is not a return address, or the return address could be that of a retailer. The sender of the item(s) is usually an international, third-party seller who has found the recipient's address online. The intention is to give the impression that the recipient is a verified buyer who has written positive online reviews of the merchandise, meaning: they write a fake review in your name. These fake reviews help to fraudulently boost or inflate the products' ratings and sales numbers, which they hope results in an increase of actual sales in the long-run. Since the merchandise is usually cheap and low-cost to ship, the scammers perceive this as a profitable pay-off.

This is why it's bad.

While it may appear to be a victimless crime—you did after all get some free stuff—the reality is that your personal information may be compromised. Often scammers obtain personal information through nefarious means and with ill-intentions, and use it for a number of scams and other illicit activities in the future.

Your fake review may prompt people to purchase worthless stuff.

In other instances, bad actors are using a person's address and account information to receive merchandise then steal it from the home before the resident is able to intercept it.

The USPIS page contains more details about what to do if consumers should receive an unsolicited package.

This article will be updated if we receive responses from the young woman and/or local police.

Sources

"Brushing Scam." United States Postal Inspection Service, 1 June 2022, https://www.uspis.gov/news/scam-article/brushing-scam.

Liles, Jordan. "Were Apple AirTag Trackers Being Used by Stalkers?" Snopes, 21 Jan. 2022, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/apple-airtag-tracker-stalker/.

Stringer, Sarah. "Quad Cities, This Is Why A Purple Hair Tie In Your Mail Could Be Dangerous." B100, 1 Aug. 2023, https://b100quadcities.com/illinois-purple-hair-tie-in-mail/.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.