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Here’s What You Should Do If You’re Receiving Mysterious Packages of Seeds from China

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  • Hundreds of Americans are receiving mysterious packages of seeds they never ordered, many of which are seemingly being sent from countries like China and Taiwan.
  • Because of that, many are worried about whether the seeds are some sort of prank, scam, or even a bio weapon.
  • So far, 28 states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have issued warnings not to plant the seeds, with the USDA also launching a federal investigation.
  • The USDA said Tuesday that, at this point, there is nothing to suggest that these seeds are anything more than a “brushing” scam, which is a disingenuous tactic used by some companies to boost their online reviews.

Mysterious Seeds Being Delivered to U.S. Homes

In a mysterious event that has confused and concerned hundreds of Americans, people are receiving unsolicited packages of seeds from different countries.

In many cases, those seeds are being delivered in white packages (sometimes also yellow envelopes) that appear to be postmarked from countries such as China, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, or Kyrgyzstan. When recipients open those packages, they find the seeds in a sealed bag but find no indication as to what type of seeds they are.

To complicate matters, these recipients seem to be receiving different types of seeds that vary from package to package.

In several documented instances, the packages aren’t even labeled as having seeds; rather, they’re labeled as containing different items. For example, according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, some packages have been labeled as jewelry. In a similar situation, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has reported that other packages were labeled as containing earbuds or toys. 

It appears that other packages labeled as jewelry or tools did, in fact, contain another inexpensive item, but those items were still accompanied by a package of seeds.

In Iowa, officials have said that some of the seeds have been treated and may also contain an unknown insecticide or fungicide. 

So far, at least 28 state agriculture departments have issued warnings about these unsolicited shipments of seeds.

It follows reports from several states, such as in Virginia, where agriculture officials said they’ve received over 900 emails and several hundred telephone calls from people who’ve received these types of packages. In Louisiana, officials have confirmed that about 100 packages have been sent to people across the state. Florida officials have confirmed that about 160 people have received packages. 

Because of that, on Tuesday, the United States Department of Agriculture stepped in, announcing that it is now investigating these shipments. According to a press release, it is working with Customs and Border Protection, as well as other federal agencies.

These mysterious packages aren’t only being received in the United States. Officials in Canada have also begun warning residents to be wary of unsolicited shipments.

What Should I Do if I Receive These Seeds?

If you receive seeds you did not order, do not throw them away — even if your first instinct is to get rid of them as quickly as possible. On a similar note, do not throw away the mailing label or the outer package those seeds came in. 

Instead, state agriculture officials are asking you to contact them. They will then come and pick up the seeds for testing. 

“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam, or an act of agricultural bio-terrorism,” Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “Unsolicited seeds could be invasive and introduce unknown diseases to local plants, harm livestock or threaten our environment.”

Because of that, officials have also asked people not to plant the seeds as they could introduce foreign pathogens or overwhelm native species; however, in states like Iowa, local outlets reported that some people have already planted those seeds after mistaking them for other seeds they had ordered. In response, Iowa’s agriculture department has now asked people to pull up and destroy those plants. 

In reality, agriculture officials aren’t yet certain if the packages actually originated from China or another country. It could also take time to reach such a conclusion, as the USDA is likely going to have to go through thousands of different seeds.

Meanwhile, China has explicitly denied shipping the packages, saying its postal service strictly abides by restrictions on sending seeds.

“After verification with China Post, those address labels turned out to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. “China Post has contacted USPS, asking it to send those fake packages to China for investigation.”

Many States Now Believe this Could be a “Brushing Scam”

In its press release, the USDA said it believes the mysterious packages could be tied to review scams. 

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the release states. 

A “brushing scam” can work a little like this: A seller of a product creates a fake customer account online—for example, a fake account on Amazon. That seller then places an order for their own product before sending it to an address in another country. Thus, while the account is fake, the address is very much real.

Using a real address then gives the seller the ability to post positive reviews of their own products, thereby improving their ranking on the site. 

Because it is still unclear if this is a brushing scam, it is also unclear whether the sellers potentially running the scam sell seeds or another product.

Still, even if this does prove to be a scam, that doesn’t mean officials aren’t still concerned about the contents being shipped. For example, in Washington, agriculture officials believe some of the packages received in the state contained citrus seeds, which could transmit disease among other citrus. 

See what others are saying: (Iowa Central Dispatch) (NBC News) (Reuters)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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