Special to the News-Journal
A surge in scams targeting ranchers has special rangers of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association warning producers to take precautions.
Scott Williamson, the association’s director of law enforcement, urged all ranchers to be on high alert, but especially those who do business via websites and social media. Con artists prefer the anonymity of electronic or even phone communications, he said, and that makes it more difficult for law enforcement to track down and prosecute the perpetrators.
One popular scheme over recent years is for a prospective buyer to inquire about cattle, hay or equipment for sale by the rancher. The buyer will send a check or cashier’s check that is more than the agreed price. The buyer will ask the rancher to cash the check and give the extra money to someone else to pay for transportation and delivery. The check is often counterfeit, designed to look legitimate for just long enough that it can be cashed and the money wired. Sometimes the scammer will even attempt to obtain the items before the check has finally cleared and found to be counterfeit. In either case, the victim is liable for the funds while the crook enjoys the ill-gotten proceeds.
Another common scam targets ranchers who are buying cattle, hay or equipment. The con artist will falsely advertise the items using misleading descriptions and fake photos or video, only to deliver inferior products. According to Williamson, the perpetrators of these schemes are often very good at crafting the transaction into a civil action. That means law enforcement cannot file criminal charges, and a lawsuit is the only recourse. Also, if you deliver the payment before receiving the property, you may not receive the delivery at all, he warns.
The association offered these tips for avoiding fraud:
■ Verify the person you are attempting to do business with a trusted source.
■ When selling items consider payment options such as an escrow service or online payment system.
■ Never accept a check or cashiers check for more than the value of the sale.
■ Confirm checks are valid by contacting your bank or the issuing bank.
■ When buying items never issue payment until the items are received unless you have complete trust in the seller.
■ Always inspect and document livestock or items before taking delivery, and remember, you have the right to refuse delivery.
■ If you believe you are a victim of a bait and switch purchase, act quickly. The more time that lapses, the more it appears that you were initially agreeable to the transaction and the ability to remedy the problem erodes.
“There are a lot of bad people out there who will try to take advantage of your trust and goodwill,” Williamson said. “Trust your instincts and remember the old saying — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”