High demand and cost for hay are giving fraudsters another avenue to hit people in the pocketbook.

Alberta RCMP are warning rural and farming communities to be aware of an increase in the number of opportunistic fraudsters placing listings for hay on social media and buy-and-sell platforms.

The culprits are requesting immediate payment before buyers have the opportunity to research the producer, see the product, or receive delivery.

In all reported cases, the maximum individual deposit sent to scammers was over $5,000, and the minimum was $1,000. Those who avoided being scammed had refused to give deposits in advance, insisted upon speaking on the phone and had paid cash upon delivery of goods.

Cpl. Sean Milne, of the Alberta RCMP Provincial Financial Crime Team,  says various groups have scammed victims of approximately $64,000 across the province. With many cases potentially not being reported, this figure could be higher.

He says the hay shortage may cause farmers and agricultural workers to make purchases without taking time to properly verify or research production sources.

This summer, there have been reports of transactions on Facebook Marketplace for a purchase of hay where a quantity of money was sent through an e-transfer, but no hay was delivered, and the funds were lost.

RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff says the Cochrane detachment hasn't dealt with any cases as of yet, but there some have been reported to nearby detachment.

The RCMP provides these key indicators to help identify a potential scam across online selling platforms:

  • Typically, sellers will only communicate through text messaging and avoid phone conversations.
  • Sellers can be located anywhere in the world and will get the attention of buyers by having specific or specialized knowledge of hay products.
  • Pricing will be attractively low and will be consistent with the previous year’s market price.
  • Often, there will be an insistence of a 50 per cent deposit but once the deposit is received, there may be excuses about delayed delivery and then communication stops.

If you, or anyone you know, suspect a scam or have been a victim of fraud, report it to the Cochrane RCMP (403-932-2211) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501, or online at http://www.antifraudcentre.ca

More fraud prevention information is available on Facebook here and Twitter @RCMPAlberta.