Buying horses online sight-unseen is not uncommon, particularly when it comes to buying Thoroughbreds off the track. Unfortunately this creates a prime opportunity for scammers to take advantage. Here are a few tips for protecting yourself and transacting safely when buying horses online.
- Deals that seem to go to be true probably are!
- Beware of buyers that ask few or no questions, or sellers who are not forthcoming with information on the horse.
- Research who you’re transacting with, whether as a buyer or seller. Ask for references (vet, barn owner, past clients). Social media can be a good tool here as well; search their name and see what kind of posts you find in groups and pages, and see if you have any mutual friends. The horse industry is small in this regard -- chances are good that you know someone that knows the person you’re transacting with.
- Protect your payment! Money orders, bank wires, Western Union, and MoneyGram are common payment methods when scams take place. If you accept a personal check or cashier’s check, it’s strongly recommended that you wait for funds to clear (7-10 business days) before proceeding with the transaction, as your bank will debit funds from your account if they don’t clear. PayPal is an excellent way of protecting yourself in a transaction, but do not use peer to peer services such as Venmo or Zelle as they do not offer the same consumer protection as PayPal. Do not accept gift cards.
- Do not proceed with a transaction without an executed bill of sale. The RRP has one available for public use here if you do not have your own.
- Use caution if third-party services, such as shipping, are included in the purchase price. These fees are typically paid directly to the associated vendor.
- Read carefully. “Sloppy” ads are big red flags. Look for poor spelling and grammar, inconsistent or invalid information such as phone numbers that ring to a fax, strange email addresses, locations that don’t exist (San Diego, ME), or odd photos (horse is supposedly located in Phoenix, AZ but photos are on lush bluegrass with blossoming trees in the background).
- Trust your gut! If you’re not sure you trust your gut, show a friend.
If you believe you’ve been scammed, contact the service hosting the classified immediately so they can take appropriate action. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) [http://www.IC3.gov] is a government-regulated agency that handles fraud across the Internet. Be sure to file a complaint with them so they can investigate the matter.