Tractor scam highlights threat of online ‘Covid crime’

An Orkney farmer trying to buy a tractor through an online site has been scammed, sparking new fears about a rise in fraud targeting the agricultural community.

The attempted purchase of the machine through eBay saw the farmer transfer payment to what is thought to be a fake account, with the “seller” now uncontactable.

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The incident serves as a “sad reminder” to all farmers and crofters of the need to be vigilant when doing online deals, according to NFU Scotland.

“It is always upsetting to hear about scams hitting the farming community, especially when it is within our own region,” said Orkney regional chairman Alan Corrigall.

“The reality is that those looking to scam and defraud are ever-present, and this incident must help serve as a reminder of all of the potential pitfalls when purchasing online.”

Fake account

Chief Inspector Matt Webb of Kirkwall Police Station said tractors were being advertised for sale online, requesting payment through a fake PayPal account.

“Fraudsters go to great lengths to make themselves appear legitimate, so it is important to take your time to ensure you are buying from a genuine seller,” he said.

“We would always urge people to be vigilant and to do their due diligence when buying online, particularly if purchasing expensive equipment.”

Welsh warning

NFU Cymru has also warned farmers to be wary of the heightened threat of criminal activity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus restrictions could, it says, lead farmers into being duped into buying goods online from sources they would not usually consider.

“Many farmers may be looking online to purchase goods and ‘big ticket’ items that they would usually travel to inspect in person,” said NFU Cymru deputy president Aled Jones.

“At a time when some farmers’ buying habits may change to adapt to the current situation, it’s very important to stress that we should all be wary of the fact that, unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals out there who are targeting farmers through criminal and fraudulent activity.

“There are many things we can all do to protect ourselves online and minimise the chances of falling victim to a scam.

“If something seems too good to be true, it usually is,” added Mr Jones. “Don’t be tempted by something that could carry a risk just because the cost is appealing.”

Huge range

This latest incident comes at a time when a huge range of scams are proliferating, according to rural insurer NFU Mutual.

“Gone are the days when you could easily spot a suspicious email – today’s cyber-criminals are masters at catching us off-guard,” said a spokesperson.

“It’s not just our inbox, but in text messages, online and by phone. Scammers are getting smarter, which means if we want to stay safe and protect ourselves and our assets, we’ve got to get smarter too.”

Criminals are “sophisticated operators” using techniques to gain trust and trick people, such as appealing to their emotions and creating a sense of urgency, added the spokesperson.

Advice on avoiding scams

  • Go with what you know. Wherever possible, stick with trusted brands and websites that have a strong reputation.
  • Use a secure payment method. Paying online with a credit card means the lender is, by law, jointly liable with the retailer. If you sign your credit and debit cards up to MasterCard SecureCode and Verified by Visa, you will get an extra layer of password protection.
  • Check for the padlock when shopping online. If the website uses an “https” web address and carries a security padlock in the browser, any data you enter is encrypted, making it harder for others to intercept.
  • Make purchases on a secure network. If you are buying online using a mobile device, do so over a secure network, ideally a password-protected home network that only your family has access to. Don’t purchase goods online over public wi-fi.

Source: NFU Cymru

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