From a reader: I wanted to surprise my 10-year-old daughter with a horse for Christmas. I started my online looking about three months ago. ... I answered an online ad about a mare named Stella. The advertiser gave all the right info about Stella and the price seemed fair. They even posted photos and information about a recent vet checkup.
They boasted registrations for Stella and that she had been professionally trained. So, I answered the ad. The seller said her husband was being transferred and that she needed a quick sale.
We emailed back and forth and back and forth. I started to get nervous when we tried to meet to see the horse and we had trouble connecting. So I did some additional research and found the real ad for Stella at a real horse farm in Kentucky. The ad I answered was not even posted by the owner. What can be done with ads like these?
Action Line: What a lucky little girl you have living at your house! I hope that your experience with one online advertiser didn't ruin her surprise.
There are some red flags for you in the very first encounter that I see in the ad you sent to me. The ad has poor grammar. The scammer uses urgency by telling you that she has no one to care for Stella and must part with the mare because she must move to another state.
We see these kinds of tactics used in online ads for car sales, transporting vehicles between states, trailer sales, camper sales and all kinds of big-ticket items -- but this is the first time we have seen it for a horse.
The Internet creates a place where it is easy for scammers to be anonymous. And easy for good citizens to become victims.
Here are some tips to help keep you from being the 'net victim:
Urgency: As in the case of Stella, if a seller is willing to sacrifice for a quick sale, that could be a signal that something's wrong.
Strange requests: If it doesn't make sense to you, walk away.
Grammar and spelling: It doesn't take an English professor to spot poor grammar -- often a telltale sign that something's wrong.
Requests for sensitive information: Be careful when giving out your credit card information, for instance.
Guarantees and promises: Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true. Go to whois.net and find out who owns the website you are visiting.
Report it: If you think an ad is questionable, report it to the website owners. If the ad is a scam, any good site will take it down.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or email@example.com.