Scammers swindle farm businesses out of $1.2M

Grain Central, October 14, 2022

Farmers are being urged to be cautious and protect themselves when buying heavy machinery. Photo: NSW Farmers

AUSTRALIAN farm businesses lost more than $1.2 million to scammers in the first eight months of 2022, prompting a warning to heavy machinery buyers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said farmers and small businesses in rural and regional areas are urged to be cautious, particularly when buying heavy machinery, following a spike in scams targeting the agricultural sector this year.

Reports to the ACCC’s Scamwatch show Australian farm businesses lost more than $1.2 million to scammers between 1 January and 31 August 2022, an increase of more than 20 percent compared to the same period last year.

The most common scam targeting farmers involved the sale of tractors and heavy machinery, with losses to this scam alone topping $1 million so far this year.

ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said scammers are ruthlessly luring farmers and rural businesses with seemingly good online deals on tractors and other farm machinery through fake websites or bogus classifieds on legitimate platforms and publications.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a concerning rise in agricultural scams in recent years, as farm businesses increasingly purchase machinery online.

“These scams are causing substantial financial losses and emotional devastation,” he said.

ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.

“Scammers are highly sophisticated in the ways they impersonate a business – some fake websites have ABNs for instance – which is why we are urging farmers and business owners to be alert to the scam risks and do extra checks to avoid getting caught out.”

Be on alert

NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee chair Deb Charlton said, following the ACCC’s report, it was critical for farmers to protect themselves and their businesses.

“If it’s too cheap it’s probably too good to be true, so always do your research and take your time if you’re buying online,” Mrs Charlton said.

“We’ve also heard about fake invoice scams costing farmers more than $320,000 this year, so make sure you double check details even on invoices you’re expecting.

“At the end of the day there are crooks out there trying to take your hard-earned, so take a little extra precaution and stay safe.”

The ACCC said scammers trick people through a range of ever-evolving methods such as providing a contract of sale, answering questions about the potential sale of machinery by phone or email, or offering a free trial period once money is deposited into an escrow account, which is actually part of the scam.

Independently verifying the existence of a business by searching the address of the business and calling a nearby business, is an important step in ensuring the seller is who they say they are.

“Many scams can be revealed by doing an internet search of the exact wording in the ad,” Mr Keogh said.

“Never click on a link provided to you by the seller or pay upfront – even if you are promised the money is refundable.

“Ask to pay at the time of delivery or pickup.

“If possible, inspect the machinery in person or via live video first. Scammers will often have an excuse as to why machinery can’t be inspected in person and that is a red flag for any buyer,” he said.

Farmers are also being warned against giving too much personal information as scammers are targeting more than just money.

“Legitimate sellers will only ever ask for enough information to deliver what you’ve ordered, so it is important not to give too much personal information over the phone or online as you may fall victim to identity theft,” Mr Keogh said.

“If you have provided personal information and you are concerned you have been scammed, contact IDCARE immediately.”

Businesses, regardless of whether they have lost money, are encouraged to report scams and learn more about how to get help on the Scamwatch website.

Scamwatch raises awareness

The ACCC-run Scamwatch aims to raise awareness about how to recognise, avoid and report scams. It shares intelligence and works with government, law enforcement and the private sector to disrupt and prevent scams.

If you have experienced cybercrime and lost money online, you can report to police via ReportCyber.

For crisis support to help with emotional distress about scams contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or access support via the online chat between 7pm and midnight.

Beyond Blue also provides support for anxiety and depression 1300 22 4636 or chat online.

Source: ACCC, NSW Farmers


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