Don’t get scammed on internet horse deals!

Could this be the horse of your dreams? Beware of offers that seem to be too good to be true.
Could this be the horse of your dreams? Beware of offers that seem to be too good to be true.

The pictures show fantastic movement and the price looks to be a steal for the well-performed horse.

You email the seller and the horse is, indeed, still for sale. You can’t believe your luck! Your enthusiasm gets the better of your judgment and before you know it, you’ve shelled out money and the horse is nowhere to be seen.

Most regular internet users will be familiar with the so-called Nigerian scam. It follows a well-worn format. Millions in cash is tied up in a foreign country and, for a little help from your end, you will be handsomely rewarded. The only problem is, you need to meet some transfer and solicitors’ costs.

It will be a few hundred dollars – a very tidy sum, indeed, for a scammer who spends his days on a computer in Africa trying to dupe gullible Westerners.

The same rogues prowl online classified sites intent on making a tidy profit. The sites could be selling anything from watches and power tools to – you guessed it – horses.

It’s important to be aware of all the variations on the standard scam, but be warned: inventive crooks are coming up with new variations almost every day in the hope they will catch online users at a weak moment.

How do these scams work? The most common centres around “selling” an excellent horse at a very reasonable price. All they need to do is grab good images from a website pretty much anywhere in the world and they’re ready to post their shonky classified.

The deal will seem very tempting. They’re after people living out of town, who won’t be able to view the animal.

They are likely to engage the online buyer in an email or even telephone conversation. The aim is to get money paid into their bank account – and they don’t really care how they do it.

Ideally – from their viewpoint – you pay upfront, sight-unseen, and you never hear from them again. They might declare themselves so confident in the abilities of the horse that they’re happy to get half-payment now and the remainder after you receive the horse. They still make a handsome profit – and remember, they could be scamming half a dozen different potential buyers for the same horse.

It is a brave person who would buy any horse sight unseen, unless they receive solid advice from an independent and knowledgeable party.

Another twist is that they’ll let you have the horse before you pay for it. All you need to do is pay the $500 for having the horse transported. Or suggest you pay them to organise the veterinary check.

The horse may even be free – provided you pay the transport costs.

It is a brave person who would buy any horse sight unseen, unless they receive solid advice from an independent and knowledgeable party, be it a veterinarian or a friend who lives nearby.

Even this requires caution, as you want to be sure the horse you are delivered is the one assessed by the vet or friend, not some unsound horse they had hiding in the back paddock when their “show” animal was viewed. The New Zealand consumer affairs television show, Fair Go, recently highlighted such a case, where a buyer did not receive the well-performed pony she had paid for, but a horse that may well have come off the kill truck.

A recent on-line advertisement identified as a scam in the United States has provoked considerable discussion. “I was contacted by a horse owner who has an unfortunate situation and needs to find a good home for his Friesian gelding,” the advertiser explained. “He is offering Ebony free to a good home with the assurance the animal will be well cared for.”

The pictures of Ebony show him to be a fine-looking horse with great paces.

“Ebony is a loyal horse, willing, placid and cheerful,” the advertiser explains.”He is people-oriented, highly intelligent and possesses an uncanny ability to retain knowledge. He can be ridden both Western and English disciplines.”

One person who responded to the advertisement said the advertiser offering Ebony wanted $US1500 in bogus fees to transfer registration, as well as shipping fees paid upfront.

The same horse was found for sale in two different states under two different names.

Founder of The Long Riders’ Guild, CuChullaine O’Reilly, said he responded to the fraudulent Friesian horse advertisement before determining it was a fake.

He described it as a devilish method of preying on the public’s trust, and labelled the perpetrators as obnoxious low-level pony parasites.

O’Reilly, who is planning a ride around the world with his wife, Basha, said he was excited to have apparently discovered a seller with the perfect horse for his 12,000-mile journey.

Later that day he found the same Friesian “gelding” was for sale on another website as a Friesian mare.

“You can imagine my disappointment,” he said.

The old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, has been around much longer than the internet, but still holds true.

Scammers may not only be trying to sell you a bogus horse. Another variation is offering to buy the horse or equipment you have for sale.

You provide your bank account number and they say they will pay for the both the horse and the transport at once. Nothing, it seems, is a problem.

The money turns up in your account but you discover they have paid too much. They email apologetically and ask you to transfer the balance back.

You blithely do so (with your own cleared funds) and a few days later their original transaction is dishonoured. The only transaction that was kosher was your “refund” – and you’ll never see the money again.

All these scammers are playing a numbers game. They realise that the great majority of people will see through their deception, but they rely on that small percentage of people who let down their guard to fall victim.

There are several clues that should automatically raise your suspicion levels in any transaction.

  1. The deal being offered is unbelievably good.
  2. Their English is poor, suggesting the scam may have originated from Africa, which is a hotbed of such deception. This is not always the case, however, so be careful.
  3. Their email address is a free account, such as hotmail. Yes, millions of people legitimately use such free accounts. However, if you sense something amiss in a deal, the use of such email accounts should lift your suspicion levels a notch or two higher.
  4. If they phone you up, you notice by the metallic sound of the call that they’re probably using an internet-based phone service out of Africa. The call will be costing them virtually nothing.
  5. If you ask them some questions, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t know much about horses.
Scammers take pictures of quality horses from the internet and write an ad designed to tempt buyers.
Scammers take pictures of quality horses from the internet and write an ad designed to tempt buyers.

As a rule of thumb, never buy a horse sight unseen. Only pay up once you’re completely satisfied you’ll be able to uplift the horse. In the extremely unlikely event of an overpayment, never refund any money until you have discussed it with your bank.

Getting a written contract is all well and good, but the reality is that many of these scammers will sign anything if it improves their chances of getting money out of you. Chances are their name is fake, their email address untraceable or transient, and you’ll never be able to track them down again.

The old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, has been around much longer than the internet, but still holds true.

The final sobering warning comes from the website, 419eater.com, comprising a band of individuals who make a sport out of responding to the scammers and trying to dupe them. Their ultimate prize is to scam the scammers.

The site provides highly entertaining accounts of their exchanges with the fraudsters, nearly all from Africa.

However, its front page carries the following warning to anyone considering having a go, but their advice holds trues even to those who inadvertently make contact: “Please remember that these people are CRIMINALS and should be treated as such.

“Under no circumstances must you enter into any communications with these people unless you feel you are adequately prepared to deal with them.

” … these guys may appear dumb and clueless, but I suspect it wouldn’t be so funny if you were to come face-to-face with one of them …”

If you realise you’ve engaged with a scammer, don’t waste good keystrokes trying to point out the error of their ways. If you have to respond, tell them you’ve found a suitable horse and move on.

If you suspect the scam has originated in your own country, alert the police.

 

First published on Horsetalk.co.nz in October, 2009.

 

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