A racket that usually involves bogus horse buyers from Africa and Eastern Europe has resurfaced — but this time conmen are posing as buyers from the US and Europe. The tricksters are also targeting horsebox vendors.

The scam usually involves a “buyer” apparently based abroad, offering the asking price for the horse or lorry unseen, plus an extra few thousand pounds to cover shipping costs. Enquiries are usually made via e-mail, in response to Internet adverts, often in poor English, from a “Dr” or “Prof”.

But Cheshire Forest Hunt Supporters’ Club member Edwina Darlow escaped falling victim to a more polished version of the scam after advertising a pony on the Internet.

Shortly after Edwina advertised her Welsh section B on a website, a woman with an American accent phoned with detailed questions about the pony. After offering £3,200, down from the asking price of £3,500, the caller said that she would instruct her husband’s accountant in England to issue a cheque. The American didn’t want to view the pony and gave the name and number of the shipper she would use.

Already suspicious, Mrs Darlow tried to call the shipper but didn’t get a reply. Then a cheque for £4,950 arrived with instructions for her to cash it and pay the shipper herself. Mrs Darlow checked the name of the business on the cheque. It was a registered car business with no obvious overseas connections. Mrs Darlow then made contact with the shipper, who pressed her to transfer the funds to him without waiting for the cheque to clear. She refused.

Shortly afterwards Mrs Darlow’s bank contacted her to say the cheque was stolen and was being retained by the police. “They [purchaser and shipper] had plausible American accents,” said Mrs Darlow.

Conmen have also targeted horsebox vendors. Essex-based dressage rider Sarah Jacklin just escaped losing her Ford Cargo lorry, and some money, after advertising it on the Internet. A buyer who claimed to be a Brit based in Spain, contacted her expressing an interest.

“He said he’d to pay full price, plus £5,000 for shipping costs for me to pay the shipper,” said Sarah. “He said the cheque was coming from a company, but he wouldn’t give me its name. It rang alarm bells that someone wanted a D-reg lorry shipped to Spain. Then a friend told me about the scam, so I said that I wasn’t interested. I didn’t hear from him again.”

According to recent newspaper reports, conmen have also tried similar scams to con dog breeders in Britain out of thousands of pounds.

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (2 June, ’05)


    Get up to 19 issues FREE
    UK’s No1 weekly for Horses for Sale
    Latest results and reports
    TO SUBSCRIBE CLICK HERE