A spike in scams targeting the Australian agricultural sector, including dairy farmers, has led to a nationwide warning issued to farmers and small businesses to be more vigilant when purchasing equipment this winter.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued a stark reminder that scams are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to spot, with fraudsters using well-known platforms to post classifieds. Other means to gain the buyers’ trust have included offering a ‘contract of purchase’ and a free trial once the money is deposited, as well as publishing fake ABNs, which is Australia’s equivalent for VAT numbers.
The ACCC reported that farm businesses had lost more than AU$1.2m (US$753,000) to scammers between January 1 and August 31 this year – a 20% annual increase - with the most common scam alone, which involves bogus sales of tractors and heavy machinery, topping AUS$1m (US$628,000).
In 2021, the body’s Scamwatch initiative recoded more than AU$1.5m (US$942,000) in reported losses, but the real-world figures are expected to be significantly higher since only a small portion of crimes are being reported.
“Unfortunately, we have seen a concerning rise in agricultural scams in recent years, as farm businesses increasingly purchase machinery online,” commented ACCC deputy chair, Mick Keogh. “These scams are causing substantial financial losses and emotional devastation.”
Ag businesses are being advised to take extra steps to verify the identity of suspected companies before purchasing services or equipment from them. “Many scams can be revealed by doing an internet search of the exact wording in the ad,” said Keogh. “Never click on a link provided to you by the seller or pay upfront - even if you are promised the money is refundable."
Fake invoice scams are also impacting farm businesses, with more than AUS$320,000 lost so far this year, according to ACCC. “In this scenario, scammers impersonate a business or its employees by requesting a payment be redirected to a fraudulent bank account,” Keogh explained. “They sometimes hack the email account of your supplier, attaching invoices for services or equipment. Beware - these invoices look almost identical to the real ones, with just the bank details changed. Never call the phone number on the invoice; independently source the phone number to confirm the correct bank details.”
Farmers have also been warned against disclosing too much personal information online, which could lead to a host of scams, from identity theft to account hacking.
“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,” Keogh said.
Businesses, whether they have been victims to a scam or not, are encouraged to report scams to ACCC’s Scamwatch, which also offers help and advice on fraud prevention. "In addition to financial losses, scams cause emotional devastation," Keogh concluded. "I encourage you to reach out for help if you need it. Crisis support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636."
To thwart scams:
- Research the seller - know who you are buying from
- Inspect the machinery in person first
- Never pay upfront – even on the promise it’s refundable
- Always pay on delivery or pick-up
- Don’t give too much personal information
- Independently check for phone numbers and bank details
In other news, a livestock farmer from Havey, Western Australia, lost AU$16,500 after trying to purchase 30 cattle via Facebook Marketplace. Harvey Police reported that the farmer had video-called the ad-poster to confirm their identity, and was also able to see the cattle in the background.
The scam victim then transferred the money into two separate accounts and was advised to collect the livestock from a farm in Keysbrook - but the farm owners there had been unaware of the transaction. When they attempted to contact the seller, they found that his Facebook profile had been deleted.
According to the police, livestock ads from the same poster had been shared to Great Southern and Wheatbelt livestock sale pages. Constable Ben Read commented: "We would definitely suggest to people that you don't buy goods unseen, if at all possible."