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Farm businesses warned as scams targeting agricultural sector grow

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 Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) 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 per cent 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.

“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,” ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.

“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.”

“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,” Keogh 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.

Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia attributed the rise to more victims reporting scams, the group’s executive director Gary Northover said in an interview with the ABC.

“We suspect part of it’s due to the fact that reporting has increased,” he said.

“It’s been a widespread problem for years now. With the ease of doing business over the internet now, scammers are having their day so we just need to be careful.

“Clearly the people that are doing it are very professional … and they produce websites and pictures of machines that look real. And I’m not so sure it’s just confined to the agricultural industry.”

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. 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,” Keogh said.

“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.

“Scammers may advertise machinery at lower prices than the typical market rate. As always, if it looks too good to be true or if you feel pressured in any way, chances are it’s a scam 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.”

 

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