Matalan cards and 16.2hh Shetlands: riders fight back against scammers ‘selling’ fake horses

  • Equestrians fed up of scammers taking people for a ride have been fighting back — with “Matalan cards”, sweets and soft drinks.

    Sarah Davies (not her real name) set up the Facebook group Equestrian Scammers, Ribena and Strawberry Laces to raise awareness of dishonest “sellers” trying to exhort money for goods they do not have — and to have some fun at the same time.

    Sarah told H&H she created the group after her mother was scammed by a person, or group of people, pretending to be a man stranded abroad with no access to money.

    “She’d lost her partner, and they took advantage of her vulnerability,” Sarah said. “He was absolutely relentless, and over two years, she lost over £25,000.

    “There was nothing she could do. The police and Action Fraud’s hands were tied as the scammers weren’t in the UK. To tell an older lady she won’t see her life savings again was heartbreaking.”

    As an equestrian, Sarah had seen similar scammers at work, purporting to sell everything from horses to tack, often using pictures and video stolen from genuine sellers, and asking for online payments to secure horses or items they do not own. Having been so involved in her mother’s case, she told H&H, she could spot warning signs early on, but it appeared not all others could do the same.

    “It’s about educating people,” she said.

    “I’ve been talking to some of the scammers; it’s got more and more absurd, they’ll say anything. But I could see these scammers posting, and people commenting to say they’d messaged them, and thought some of these people might end up losing money.”

    Sarah started the group and posted screenshots of some of her conversations with scammers. The name comes from a mention of Ribena and strawberry laces, in an early chat with a scammer who was promising to sell Sarah a 16.1/2hh seven-year-old mare, who ran in a bumper in 2018 and retired sound. The seller said the Shetland, who he referred to as “he”, would reach 20hh, 22hh with the right care, and asked for a £700 deposit through PayPal friends and family.

    “I don’t think about what I’m saying, it just comes out,” Sarah said.

    “I can’t believe how much the group has taken off; people are getting really involved.”

    One trademark of the anti-scammers is to ask for a “Matalan card”, the “buyer” insisting that it is illegal to sell horses without them. Sellers have been agreeing that their horses’ Matalan cards are indeed present and up to date.

    “It’s so obvious to a horsey person if they’re being offered a horse for sale with a Matalan card!” Sarah said. “It’s so ridiculous, it’s an instant warning if you see that from a seller. It doesn’t really matter what you say to these scammers; they’ll say anything as they’re just so desperate for your money.”

    Other clued-up “buyers” have been told horses will be delivered to them to “Chelmsford port”, or given sellers’ addresses that, when googled, have been estate agents or in town centres. Some of the scammers have provided fake certificates of registration from fake organisations, while others have produced the famous “Matalan cards”.

    Group members have fought back by sending the scammers mocked-up screenshots appearing to show they have paid the deposit as asked.

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    But Sarah’s main point is getting the message out.

    “The key is: be aware and don’t pay anything to anyone,” she said.

    “I used to be so naive; it’s a natural thing to trust people but some of these Facebook profiles are teams of people, it’s scary. I think one reason the group’s been so well received is that a lot of people didn’t realise it was going on.

    “If I can save one person from being scammed, I’ve done my job, and that would make me really happy.”

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