Don’t Be Sold on a Scam: How to Make Smart Decisions While Selling Cattle Online
Avoid current scams and be aware of future threats.
When the message came through, Tim Terrell was initially excited. The cattleman was returning to the industry, and he had enlisted his daughter, Meredith, to help him with the work of navigating “virtual” sales.
Tim had grown up around livestock, but after COVID swept the country, he was able to bring his focus back to the agriculture industry. Terrell Investments, Inc., aimed to sell registered calves to seedstock cattlemen, and James Wright’s text was one of the first inquires they had about the initial calf crop available for purchase.
The North Carolina family was asking $2,000 for the bull. But before long, it seemed that “James Wright” might not be the successful transaction they were hoping for.
The potential customer claimed to be located only a few hours away from the Triad area the Terrells called home, so Meredith offered free delivery of the bull. Wright refused the offer, saying he would send someone himself.
“It drug on for a while,” she explains. “They would never talk on the phone, so I was getting suspicious.”
When the check came in the mail, things really started feeling strange, Meredith says.
Though she had asked for a certified check, it arrived instead with $4,200 written as the total. Wright texted again, saying he had accidentally combined the price of the bull and the trucking fees. He asked the Terrells to cash the check, keep their original $2,000 and give the remaining $2,200 back to the trucker when he arrived to pick up the bull.
At this point, there was no doubt in Meredith’s mind this was a scam.
She and Tim decided to follow through with the interaction, just to see how the event played out, even if the bull wasn’t sold.
Continuing to text with Wright, Meredith offered to destroy the check so he could send one with the proper amount. His responses then became “aggressive,” as he accused the operation of trying to back out of the deal.
Doing some of her own research, Meredith looked up the address Wright had given her as his ranch location. She found the location was an actual cattle operation, but when she called the business, the manager she spoke to told her no one by the name of James Wright had ever been employed there. Interestingly enough, however, the operation had fallen prey to an eerily similar scam just a few months prior.
Next, Meredith called the Kansas bank where the JPMorgan Chase check Wright had sent was from. The check was confirmed to be fake, but it was tied to a real cable company account.
After destroying the fake check, Meredith confronted Wright, telling him over text that she knew he was trying to scam her family. Despite her request to be left alone, Wright sent a few more aggressive messages, heckling Meredith in an attempt to convince her to finish the transaction.
Though the ordeal happened nearly two years ago, it’s one that’s still prevalent in Meredith and Tim’s minds as they’ve grown their business. The farm has advertisements online and in a few print publications, so a lot of business does happen virtually; but the duo has a few practices to help ensure the leads they’re pursuing are legit.
“Some of it is intuitively knowing,” Meredith says, encouraging cattlemen to trust their gut when things don’t feel right.
Approach all sales with a cautious attitude, and look out for “green flags.” A few positive indications she points out are:
Searchable background information. Inquiries about cattle for sale should come with a personal name, operation name and address. Producers should do their research on this information to help confirm an individual’s identity and legitimacy.
Clear experience in the livestock business. Customers should ask relevant questions about things like EPDs (expected progeny differences), pedigree, age, etc. Individuals should likely be aware of Association membership if they’re purchasing registered animals or asking questions about membership.
Land ownership. Most people who are serious about purchasing a live animal should already have a place to keep it.
Confirmed local sources. If potential customers are nearby, invite them to the operation to view the cattle in person — or reach out to other known breeders in the area and ask about the potential new buyer.
On the other hand, Meredith lists the following as “red flags:”
Over complications to what should be an otherwise straightforward transaction. At the end of the day, it’s just the exchange of a certain dollar amount for a specific product.
Creation of weird or tight timelines. Legitimate customers likely won’t be making wild demands of when and where the purchase needs to be completed.
Refusal to talk over the phone or meet in person (when applicable). While reaching out via text, email or direct message isn’t typically suspicious, refusing to talk in person is a sign the person isn’t who they say they are.
Failure to ask questions about the animal itself. Anyone buying animal or animal genetics will want to know something about the animal. Whether it’s birthdate, parentage or pedigree, at least a handful of questions should be asked before anyone agrees to purchase an animal.
Contact immediately after an ad is posted online. Serious customers won’t be calling seconds after an ad goes live; being cautious of immediate contact can help limit the amount of times prank calls or bots reach out to a producer.
Lack of follow-through. Empty promises are never a good sign from potential customers.
Aggressive messages urging immediate action. If an interested party tries to bully a producer into taking immediate action, odds are high they don’t have good intentions.
Scammers aren’t dumb, Meredith says, and no cattle producer should think they’re not at risk of being contacted by one.
“I think just be careful, and be aware that there are a lot of scams,” she says. “Don’t be so eager to make a sale that you’re willing to overlook red flags.”
When an Angus member does encounter a scam, Meredith encourages them to contact their regional manager or the American Angus Association.
“It’s OK to report it,” she says.
It’s shared stories and experiences that lead to knowledge and growth. Meredith is one of many who’ve likely encountered a scam within the beef industry, and she hopes her story can help another producer in the future.