At the 84th Annual Lawrence County Soils and Crops conference Jan.10, in Mt. Vernon, Karla Deaver told her startling story of a hay scam, where she and her husband were the victims.
Deaver, a 4-H youth development Specialist at the University of Missouri extension office in Lawrence County, explained, “We advertised our hay for sale on the Missouri Hay Directory.  I gave my e-mail address and home phone numbers as methods of contact.  
"I received an e-mail from a 'Rob Nelson' in mid-December, asking if our hay was still available, and for [what] price.”  
Soon after she received the e-mail, Karla replied giving him all of the necessary information. She continued, “His next e-mail asked for a total [price] for 50 bales, and he let me know that he would have someone come and pick up the hay for him.  He indicated he wanted to purchase the hay and would be sending a check immediately.”
Karla mentioned that she was uneasy about the whole deal from the beginning, since ‘Rob Nelson’s' e-mails were “worded oddly” and he seemed more focused on the prices of everything than he did the actual quality of the hay. "He didn’t ask questions about the hay at all, not the type or make up of it, he only wanted to talk about money," she said.
“He then indicated he would be sending me payment for the hauler (or the shipping agent as he called him) as well as payment for the hay, and asked that I pay his hauler for him as he was out of town on business,” recalled Karla, “I replied that I preferred he pay his hauler directly.  At this point, he not only e-mailed back saying the check was already on its way, but he called as well.  He then provided me with a name and other information for the shipping agent that I was supposed to wire money to via Western Union.”
At this point in their conversations, Karla had so many various ‘red flags’ about the sale. She decided to contact the Missouri Attorney General’s office, the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and the local Sheriff’s department.
She added, “I spoke with Detective Bounous here, and he indicated he had tracked one of these cases a few years ago all the way to our State Department and the FBI, and found that most scams like this originate from Nigeria.  This is so common because we do not have an extradition treaty with Nigeria, which means that if someone commits this kind of crime here in America, there’s nothing we can do to punish them.”
Karla continued, “We received the check last week.  It was Fed-Exed from California, and contained a check written on Nation's Bank in Ozark, Mo., and it had a couple's name with an Ozark address printed at the top.  I took the check to Region's Bank in Mt. Vernon and explained to them I believed it was fraudulent. They did some checking, and found that to be the case. This couple's account had been breached and there had been a lot of fraudulent activity on it and they reassured me that this account was being closed.”
This potential buyer, ‘Mr. Nelson’ called Karla a few days later, at which point she told him that the check had been confiscated by the bank and they were investigating the source of the forgery. Although the account the check was written on actually existed in Karla’s case, in most of these situations it does not.
Karla was confident in these details: the check for payment will look like a cashier’s check, it will be written on a bank in Florida or California, and it may be a bad account number. It usually takes anywhere from ten days to a few weeks for the banks to discover that the check is not valid. In the meantime, the person who received the check has sent money to a third party via Western Union to pay for shipping, and they are not able to recover those funds.
Karla concluded, “I would caution anyone who has anything listed for sale that provides an e-mail address as a method of contact to be on the lookout for these types of scams. They are called an overpayment scam, and it just so happens they are targeting hay growers in several states this winter.
They generally look for large ticket items that would require several dollars to ship or haul. Look for unusual sentence structure in the e-mails, or strange terminology." An example here, the scammer here used shipping agent instead of hauler.
The moral of this story:  If you are selling items online, especially high priced items, be careful. Ask lots of questions and watch for these warning signs that Karla pointed out.
Luckily, Karla and her husband suffered no losses, so take their advice, be aware and be safe when selling online.


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