By Connor Lynch
MIDDLESEX — A Middlesex County farmer was scammed out of $1,000 last month while trying to sell equipment in an online classified ad.
The Southwest Middlesex farmer put some farm equipment up for sale, listing the lot for $15,000. On Aug. 29, he got a bite, someone offering the full price but only if the farmer covered the shipping cost upfront. The farmer obliged, paid online and the buyer disappeared.
The agricultural community needs to be aware that scammers are out there, said Middlesex OPP media relations officer Max Gomez. “There are groups that prey on people who use online classified ads. They’ll offer to purchase items that are advertised, often for more money than what sellers requested.”
When selling something online to a stranger, it is always better to meet in a public place to complete the exchange or be sure to get the money upfront in an online transfer. If a buyer requests money up front, “that’s a bad sign,” Gomez said.
But when buying a product, sometimes distance can be an issue. Ask to be allowed to pay upon receipt of the product or verify as much information (his address, home phone number, website, bank branch) as you can about the seller before transferring funds. Buying online, however, comes with the inherent risk of being ripped off, and only so much can be done about it, said scam expert with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Jessica Gunson. “If something doesn’t seem right, take that for what it’s worth,” she added.
According to the anti-fraud centre, in 2016, thousands of Canadians were scammed. They lost $99 million.
The most common scam was extortion. Either the scammer infects a computer with a virus in an email attachment and demands money to remove it or the scammer uses stolen sexual information or images to force payment for silence. This scam cost Canadians $4.6 million in 2016.
The worst scam by dollar loss, however, is the romance scam, where a scammer will pretend to be a prospective partner. The sham romance via the Internet can go on for months, before the scammer either makes plans to meet and requests money for travel, or claims to have a sick relative and asks for money for medical expenses. In 2016, the anti-fraud centre received 1,267 complaints of romance scams. The 831 victims were taken in for a staggering $20.9 million, an average of $25,150 per person.
Here’s a few common business scams that farmers should look out for:
Supplier scam: The scammer sends an email to the farmer, pretending to be a supplier. He “spoofs” his email, so it looks like it’s coming from a familiar address.
The scammer informs the farmer that the supplier has a new bank account, and to send any future payments there. The anti-fraud centre recommends farmers who receive an email like this double-check over the phone or in person with a supplier to determine the legitimacy of the change of bank account.
Phishing: The scammer pretends to be a legitimate, recognized brand, like the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), Apple, or eBay. He asks for personal or financial information, which can later be used to steal the farmer’s identity. Unsolicited emails asking you to click attachments are always a bad sign, not to mention unsolicited emails asking for personal or financial information.
Sale of merchandise scam: A fake payment, or no payment, is sent to persuade a farmer to make payment online to cover the shipping cost. Low-ballers might be annoying but scammers don’t low-ball. Always verify the payment before sending a product.
Directory scam: The scammer calls to confirm information about the business, including farm location or the telephone number. The farm then receives an invoice for being added to a business directory. Sometimes the scammers will record the initial conversation to use as proof that the farm agreed to be added.
Scammers often pretend to be reputable companies like Yellow Pages, so invoices that come to the farm need to be inspected carefully.