Be cautious: Don’t get scammed when buying or selling hay

Penciling out hay purchases can be difficult, but it becomes impossible when the hay you pay for doesn’t exist.

With hay in short supply and expensive, some dishonest people are taking advantage of that situation and of ranchers in dire need of feed.

There are some outright scammers who want money up front, but do not actually have hay to sell. And some people misrepresent the hay they have for sale—saying it’s better quality than what it actually is, wanting more money than what it is worth, said Kyle Hamilton, TK Freight, Upton, Wyoming.

Through his business, Hamilton hauls a lot of hay and sometimes brokeres hay for his customers. He recommends taking time to hop in your car and go look at the hay that’s being advertised. “Meet the people,” advised. He also said that sometimes an ad is fairly obviously a scam. “If they advertise a certain type of forage that doesn’t typically grow in that area, or a mix of grasses that don’t grow in the same season, that’s a clue,” Kyle said.

You might call someone you know in that area to see if people actually grow that type of grass there. Check it out. Go look at it, or have a plan B. “Last year when hay was hard to find, we were hauling hay from June through February of this year, some of it 400 to 600 miles away. People were desperate for hay. This put us out of our normal circle and the people we usually work with. So the risk was obviously higher; you are dealing with people you don’t know,” he said.

“As a trucker, before I go as far as Colorado, I find two or three other places in that area with hay for sale, to have a plan B. It’s too expensive for me to drive all that way and then not have a load to come back with. Maybe I have to drive a little farther but at least I’m not out all the time and money for fuel. Last year I didn’t have time to drive 600 miles in my car to go look at just 2 loads of hay and then come home and go back there in my truck,” he said.

“It depends on the amount we’re going to get. If I’m going to get 1,000 tons from those people, I would probably go look at it first. Usually on those kinds of deals, I write it down and make them sign it, even if it’s just on a piece of notebook paper. I don’t know if it would hold up in court, but I don’t want them to sell it out from under me while I’m driving home to get my trucks and my other driver, if I’ve already paid for it,” Kyle said.

“Write down your agreement or put it in a text. When I’m standing in the field talking to these guys or writing them a check, I send them a text telling what we agreed on and what I paid them. A text will hold up in court because it’s a written statement (a paper trail, so to speak).”

When he first started hauling hay, dealing with the older generation, their word was good, a handshake could seal the deal, and they didn’t even know what a text was. “This next generation, most of them actually like having a text to show what we agreed on. They are also wondering if your money is any good.” Having an agreement written down is a two-way street to protect both parties.

“Scamming is an ongoing problem, so if you are buying hay, find a reputable trucker or maybe a hay broker. If you are dealing with the new guy on the block, you might want to do some calling around,” he said.

“There are a number of outfits that have been hauling hay for a long time, and if you call them and they are super busy, this usually means they are good. People trust them and keep buying hay from them.”

Do your homework if it’s someone you’ve never dealt with before. Go meet them and look at the hay if possible. You can also try searching the name online or on Facebook. Communication is key, and so is having everyone on the same page.

“Your expectations may be different. There was a guy scamming hay…when hay was really expensive, and his name was all over Facebook and his picture was printed and pinned up on the boards at gas stations, etc. He had some lawsuits against him,” Kyle said.

The seller should include adequate information about the hay—whether it’s grass or alfalfa, what kind of grass or mix it is, the weight of the bales, the nutritional quality, etc. This is important for dairy hay or horse hay, or whether it’s for young stock or dry beef cows. “If a person raises hay to sell to dairies it must be highest quality. By contrast, grass hay for beef cows is almost never tested, and some of those guys are so far away from a scale that they don’t even weigh the bales.”

If you want to play it safe you can buy one load at a time, and if the seller is going to default you are only out the money for one load instead of ten. “If you found the hay you want and are nervous about it, you could find 10 truckers and get it out of there quickly, so it doesn’t get resold out from under you. There are ways to make it work,” he said.

Tim Brandyberry also warns people to do their homework before purchasing hay. He and his wife and children own Honeydew Hay, five miles southeast of Wichita, Kansas. They have worked with customers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas since 1993.

Last spring when hay was scarce and high priced Tim noticed some questionable ads on Craigslist and hay exchanges—other places where hay is advertised. “They get hay photos for their ads off the internet and put a lure-in price on it. They picked up my address off my website and included my address in their ad. I had people asking me where the hay is and when they can come get it, and had people driving into my driveway wanting to look at the hay or ask about the hay—and I’d never seen or talked to those people before,” Tim said. They were given his address on the scammer’s advertisement.

“Most scammers want you to pay for the hay online. They say they don’t have very many bales and have a lot of people wanting hay, but they’ll hold it for you if you pay them ahead. They try to get you to make a down payment or pay for it online.”

One rancher in western Kansas gave a scammer $1,000 on Saturday and received a text on Sunday wanting more money. “They are very good at what they do. Their ad looks believable, and they try to convince people they are legit.”

It pays to be cautious when buying hay from someone you don’t know. “If the ad looks too good to be true, that’s a red flag. If they won’t actually talk to you and only communicate through text messages, that’s another flag. If they ask for money up front before you can actually meet someone or look at the hay, that’s a big red flag,” he said.

“They probably used our information in their ad because we have a website and not many hay producers have a website. It makes their ad look believable, and some people might go ahead and give them some money,” Tim said.

One of the local TV stations interviewed him in mid-August and ran a story on this. “They wondered if maybe there was a law the scammers were breaking and if there was some way to shut them down. There may be, but the scammers are probably in another country. And even if you shut one down, another one starts up. We just need to educate people to be more cautious and to only deal with someone they know.”

The scammers take advantage of people who are desperate when hay supplies are scarce. “I googled this topic and found that some people in Canada were running the same type of scam last year when hay was in short supply up there,” he said.

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