An increase in the number of fraudsters and scam artists posing as agricultural suppliers has left many farmers across Mzansi disgruntled hopeless. Poultry farmers in the Eastern Cape are now being taken in and have no chance of ever getting their money back.
Scammers are stealing the identities of legitimate suppliers online and using the logo’s of legitimate bodies to signal their “legitimacy” to unsuspecting farmers lured by the cheap prices offered on their websites.
Poultry farmer Siyathemba Ndwandwa from Butterworth reached out to Food For Mzansi to share his experience. In August the farmer came across a poultry feed and livestock supplier through an internet search.
A supplier who trades under the name “Agri Feed and Livestock Supplies” visually impressed Ndwandwa enough that he reached out to the contact person provided on the site.
“I went on the website and everything looked legit. I had to place my order via WhatsApp through the contact number provided on their site. I placed my order for 100 broilers only, because something in me said that there was a possibility that I was about to be scammed,” Ndwandwa recalls.
Cheap online broilers turn out to be a scam
Ndwandwa says he was shocked to discover that the banking details the company provided him was in fact a personal account and not a business account. His order of 100 broilers, which tallied to R800, was also much cheaper than what the farmer would normally pay with other suppliers.
“I asked why they had a personal account and the guy simply said that it was because my purchase was small and not a bulk order,” Ndwandwa says.
After following up three times over the next three weeks, Ndwandwa gave up on receiving his order.
“I knew that there was a possibility that I was being scammed, but I wanted to try,” he says.
“The first time I followed up I was informed that I would be getting my order the following week. The following week came and I was told they didn’t have enough packaging for my order. I got tired of following up after the third time, they even stopped responding,” he exclaims.
Ndwandwa warns farmers against making use of agri suppliers with no real references.
He says, “As a farmer you must look for referrals. Don’t just make an order online if you don’t know of someone who has done a successful transaction with the company and delivery was done. Rather go check it out yourself.”
Scammers imitate local producer names
According to the South African Poultry Association (Sapa), these crimes are nothing new. The association has been actively warning farmers against these scam artists posing as suppliers to the industry.
Operations and sustainability manager at Sapa, Christopher Mason, confirms that the scammers usually have pricing well below those of legitimate suppliers. He adds that people fall for this, especially when there is a shortage in commodities.
These scammers usually have online sites selling products such as feed, eggs, equipment and a variety of birds and livestock.
Mason says, “In some cases, they use names of American and Australian poultry farms. We have even picked up instances where they will use a derivative of a local producer’s name and use the local producer’s physical address on their website as a means to establish credibility.”
Mason says victims will enter the website, add whatever they need to their online shopping cart and either receive a quotation or invoice.
A mobile number is usually provided should the customer wish to discuss the order or ask questions. This is done so that it all appears to be legitimate. As soon as the required payment is made to either confirm the order or pay for it in full the scammers disappear.
“There have been cases where the scammers will contact the victim and indicate they left the shipping charges off, which requires full payment before the items can be shipped. This is just another way of getting more money,” Mason explains.
Close call for young farmer
Brian McNiel, who farms with fertile eggs, broilers and pigs, also in the Eastern Cape, almost fell for the same scam. He wanted to expand his agribusiness in a cost-effective manner and reached out to an online company asking for a quote.
“I told them that I would come back to them with a decision, but they kept calling me asking me when I would make the payment,” he says.
‘If it sounds too good to be true, then it is too good to be true and that is a clear warning that something is amiss.’
McNiel says he learned through a farmers’ WhatsApp group of which Ndwandwa is also a member that the company was a hoax and run by scam artists. McNiel says he confronted the company but that they never responded to his texts. He was later blocked.
McNiel tells Food For Mzansi that he has learned a valuable lesson.
“I will only do business with people that have a good reputation and have been doing it for a number of years. I advise up-and-coming farmers to do the same and not be so quick to buy cheap supplies. Buying cheap is actually buying expensive,” he says.
‘If it sounds too good to be true then, it is’
Sapa urges farmers to be ‘extremely’ careful when ordering online.
“If it sounds too good to be true, then it is too good to be true and that is a clear warning that something is amiss,” Mason adds.
Just because websites use the Sapa logo does not mean that they are legitimate, he warns. Poultry farmers who wish to verify whether a company advertising on the internet is legitimate, can email Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively call 011-795-9920.
If a person has been a victim of a scam, they need to report it to their local police station as well as their financial institution.
Food For Mzansi reached out to the department of agriculture for comment on the crimes.
The spokesperson for the department, Reggie Ngcobo, says they “condemn these acts of criminality and urge farmers to report these criminals to the police. We also urge our farmers to be vigilant at all times.”