Technology is making it easier for people to misrepresent themselves and today I came across a scam that is quite impressive — in that the scammer created an elaborate alternate reality.
It started with an ad on Craig’s List — and then continued with a series of spin off ads. I didn’t see the first one that was posted (it was discussed on the Chronicle of the Horse Forums) about an off-the-track “thorough bred”. The problem? The photo shown is clearly a Fresian, a horse that looks about as far from an OTTB as can be imagined.
I just located the text of the original ad. Here it is:
“I have a great tb horse he’s right off the track. He is started over jumps and can be any kind of horse u want him to be he does to please you. I’m getting rid of him because I don’t have time for him between school and work he’s just sitting in a field wasting away when he has so much potential. He is sound. He’s a bay 5yrs old and he’s 17hands.
The copy on the second ad, the one I found, reads:
We have a great thorough breed horse. He is sound. He’s a bay 5yrs old and he’s 17hands. He is good with tracks. He is an excellent dressage horse and is very good with traffic and jumping
In another version of the ad, where the headline reads, “Excellent horse for beginners”, the copy includes this statement: “he is very obedient. Even my grand mom can ride this horse”.
In some respects, the ads have elements of authenticity. They reference a website which, when you click on the link, takes you to a professional looking site of a breeder. The problem is, the breeder sells Hannovarians . . . and the address given (a street in Dorchester, Mass.) is one of the least likely places on the planet for a horse farm. And the phone number given has a New York City exchange. It also references non-existent airports, towns that aren’t in Massachusetts, and a few other anomalies, but you would need to be familiar with the geography in question to know they’re wrong.
Dig a little deeper and you find that the photos were copied from a Fresian sales site. The horse in the ad is a very handsome six year old Fresian stallion on the market for $39,000. The other photos in the Craig’s List ad were also lifted from this website.
But, selling a horse you don’t own isn’t really all that new. I’ve read other cases where people found their horse for sale on someone else’s website (or at least it’s a photo of their horse). It’s the fake website (and corresponding Facebook page) that really makes this scam standout. The site has been copied verbatim, except for changing the names of the owner and staff, the location (the real farm is in Maryland) and the phone numbers.
What’s the bottom line? If something seems to good to be true, it usually is.
Be careful when you are dealing with a seller online and never, ever send a deposit for a horse if you cannot verify that the seller is legitimate and the horse is real. Use photo searching software, look for suspicious statements in the ad (“even my grand mom can ride or thorough breed) odd things on the website. Google the name of the seller and the farm. It’s all too easy to slip into the alternate reality of the Internet and find out the only thing real was your money.
Note: As of December 10, 2013 the faux Jackson’s Horse Farm website is still active. A search on their phone number reveals they are now running a scam to “rehome” a Yorkie puppy (puppy shown in the ad is not a Yorkie, surprise, surprise ).