Farmers and ranchers are urged to be extremely cautious of scams—both online and on the phone. The business of agriculture isn’t immune to fraud, scams and other forms of criminal activity.

There has been a recent increase in scams targeting agriculture. According to law enforcement, attempts to steal livestock, hay or equipment using counterfeit checks is on the rise.

Most of these incidents followed a similar overpayment theme.

That’s also what happened earlier this spring when several South Texas farmers reported to the Texas Department of Agriculture that someone attempted to scam them under the guise of a hay sale.

Scammers sent a check for more than the amount of hay, telling the farmer the extra money was needed to cover taxes or shipping costs associated with the hay sale.

But it’s not. After the victim wires the extra money from the check to the designated account, they discover the check from the buyer is worthless.

Ranchers are also targeted by similar scams for cattle or equipment.

In most cases, the scammer has no intention of making the purchase. The check is counterfeit and designed to look legitimate, so it can be cashed and the money wired. After the supposed excess amount is wired, the money is lost.

It could take days or weeks from the time of the initial deposit to determine the document is fake. At that point, the depositor is responsible for any funds withdrawn from the check. Other times, products are offered at a bargain price that’s usually too good to be true.

Scammers use technology to make false phone numbers and addresses, making it difficult for them to be identified.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges people to be suspicious of overpayments and offers the following tips to help be aware of scams:

1. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met
2. Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails
3. Don’t believe everything you see
4. Don’t buy online unless the transaction is secure
5. Be extremely cautious when dealing with anyone you’ve met online
6. Never share personally identifiable information
7. Don’t be pressured to act immediately
8. Use secure, traceable transactions when making payments for goods and services
9. Whenever possible, work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing and insurance
10. Be cautious about what you share on social media and consider only connecting with people you already know

If you are suspicious about a transaction, contact local law enforcement. The BBB also offers a scam tracker to allow people to investigate illegal schemes or fraud at www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

 

Federal Agencies for Reporting Fraud

Guess what the most frequent Google search related to scams is? According to Google, it’s simply “How do I report a scam?” The answer, of course, isn’t simple.

Fraudsters can’t be stopped unless their schemes are reported.

“If you think you’ve been targeted by scammers, there are federal watchdog agencies you should contact to stay protected,” reports Sid Kirchheimer, the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (published by AARP Books/Sterling).

Here’s a list to which federal watchdog agency should get your complaints. Depending on the scam, there may be several.

Federal Trade Commission   |  877-382-4357

ftc.gov/complaint 

This is the agency for reporting identity theft, abusive debt collectors and most types of fraud. After filing a complaint, you’ll get a reference number to use when contacting the agency for future updates. The FTC received more than 3 million complaints in 2015, and it does not routinely respond back to you or resolve your individual case. Rather, your complaints will be entered into a database that the FTC and some 2,000 civil and criminal enforcement agencies use to track scam patterns and build cases against specific con artists. Fraud complaints should also be filed with your state’s attorney general and even local law enforcement authorities.

Internet Crime Complaint Center   

ic3.gov/complaint

For reporting internet-based scams, including online auctions; investment and sales fraud; internet extortion, hacking and phishing; and scam emails. Operated by the FBI, the IC3 forwards complaint information to appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agencies, but does not directly conduct investigations.

Postal Inspection Service   |   877-876-2455

postalinspectors.uspis.gov

To report scams distributed by U.S. mail, such as bogus lottery and sweepstakes “winnings,” chain-letter schemes and deceptive advertisements—as well as mail theft.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau   |  855-411-2372

consumerfinance.gov/complaint

For complaints about shady business practices and financial products, including loans, bank services, credit reporting, ID theft, debt collection and payment cards. The CFPB forwards complaints to the company, which has 15 days to respond. Cases are supposed to be resolved within 60 days. You can check the status of your case via the CFPB website. For credit cards and bank-issued ATM and debit cards that are used fraudulently, lost or stolen, contact the issuer.