By Jennifer Dorsett
The novel coronavirus pandemic has taken cattle markets on a wild ride.
Unfortunately, ranchers now have another concern to add to the list of worries, said Scott Williamson, the executive director of Law Enforcement, Brand and Inspection Services for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA).
Thefts and scams targeting cattlemen have increased as cattle prices have fallen.
“Economic and industry distress always increases the number of desperate people that will take fraudulent, dishonorable and criminal actions,” Williamson said.
It’s a two-fold issue, according to Williamson. Perpetrators may be trying to stay afloat and might not otherwise normally engage in criminal scams, and victims buying or selling in a panicked state of mind may not consider warning signs as they normally would.
“You may feel like you need to get in a hurry to sell some cattle before it gets worse or get in a hurry to buy while the prices are low,” he said. “But please slow down and be prudent, because con men and thieves are taking advantage of this situation.”
It’s especially important to be careful when buying or selling over the internet, he noted.
“Be extremely wary. Be sure you have some way to absolutely confirm who that person is,” Williamson said. “My suggestion is don’t do any business without being able to tangibly lay your eyes on it or meet someone. I know that seems like overkill to some people, but you just can’t be too careful.”
A call proved his point. A cattleman recently purchased a truckload of cows and the animals that arrived were not as represented by the seller. Unfortunately, the rancher had already wired the money to the seller.
Perception or agreements over the phone do not likely establish grounds for a criminal charge or investigation, according to Williamson, so it’s an especially tricky situation.
Williamson offered the following tips for avoiding fraud:
Verify the person who you are attempting to do business with through a trusted source.
When selling, consider payment options such as an escrow service or online payment system.
Never accept a check or cashier’s check that’s over the value of the sale.
Confirm checks are valid by contacting your banking institution or the issuing bank.
When buying items, never issue payment until the items are received unless you have complete trust in the seller.
Inspect and document livestock and goods before taking delivery. You always have the right to refuse delivery.
If you believe you are the victim of a bait-and-switch purchase, act quickly. As more time passes, the more it will appear you were initially agreeable to the transaction. Remedying the situation is less likely the longer you wait.
Theft will also be more likely in times of economic turmoil.
Williamson recommends photo documentation of property, including animals, tack and equipment. This will save valuable time in the event of theft or loss.
Take the keys out of tractors, UTVs and vehicles when not in use. Lock all gates, equipment rooms and barns and don’t park equipment and trailers near or in view of roadways when possible. Click here for additional tips to prevent theft.
Ensure your brand is recorded with the county clerk, Williamson added, and make sure all horses and cattle are branded.
“Cattle raisers have weathered a lot of storms over the years, and we’ll weather this one, too,” he said. “But in the meantime, be extra careful.”