COA issues warning on suspicious packages from abroad

07/28/2020 10:14 PM
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(Image taken from facebook.com/pinky.w.lin)
(Image taken from facebook.com/pinky.w.lin)

Taipei, July 28 (CNA) The Council of Agriculture (COA) issued a warning Tuesday after a Taiwanese woman allegedly received a package containing soil from an unknown sender in China, echoing several similar incidents that have been reported in the United States in recent days.

Taiwanese Facebook user Lin Wen-wen (林文雯) wrote in a widely-shared Facebook post Sunday that in early July she received an international parcel containing what was listed as a sample of potting soil from two unknown senders in Shanghai's Qingpu District.

After the delivery service and the 165 anti-fraud hotline were unable to answer her questions about the package, Lin said she contacted the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ), which asked her to bring it to its Taipei Songshan Airport Inspection Station for testing.

On Tuesday, Chen Tzu-wei (陳子偉), head of the bureau's plant quarantine section, confirmed to CNA that his office had received the package, which he said appeared to be nothing more than a soil mixture.

Nevertheless, Chen warned people who receive similar packages not to throw them out, as soil can contain roundworm, fungi and insects which, though invisible to the naked eye, carry significant risks for Taiwanese crops and plants.

For this reason, the importation of soil is illegal under Taiwan's Plant Protection and Quarantine Act, he said.

Chen added that the bureau typically handles only one to two cases per year involving soil samples sent through the post, which are usually discovered in customs checks.

On Tuesday evening, the BAPHIQ followed up in a Facebook post urging anyone who receives an unsolicited package of soil or seeds from abroad to contact one of its local offices.

The COA's warning follows those by agricultural authorities in at least five U.S. states regarding citizens receiving packages of seeds from unknown senders in China.

Police have speculated that the seeds may be tied to an online scam called "brushing," in which a vendor sends items to unwitting recipients, then poses as the verified buyer to write positive reviews and boost their product ratings, according to U.S. media reports.

(By Wu Hsin-yun and Matthew Mazzetta)

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