Amid pandemic, ranchers should be on high alert

TEXAS — As precautions for the coronavirus pandemic start to disrupt daily life across the United States, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association warns that theft and scams targeting ranchers and cattlemen are on the rise too.

With the coronavirus disrupting trade across the globe, the pandemic’s impact on the cattle market has been dramatic already. But that’s not the only threat to ranchers’ livelihood, according to Scott Williamson, executive director of law enforcement, brand and inspection services for TSCRA.

“Economic and industry distress always increases the number of desperate people that will take fraudulent, dishonorable and criminal actions,” he said.

That desperation works both ways, with more people turning to theft and deception to make ends meet, and more people buying or selling in a panicked state that may have clouded their judgment.

Williamson is already seeing these scams in action. Earlier this week, he received a call about one.

A cattleman had purchased a truckload of cows — but the seller had misrepresented aspects of the purchase. But by the time the truck arrived, the cattleman had already wired money.

“This gets especially dangerous because your perception or agreements over the phone do not likely predicate a criminal charge or investigation,” Williamson said.

“You may feel like you need to get in a hurry to sell some cattle before it gets worse or get in a hurry to buy while the prices are low,” Williamson said. “But please slow down and be prudent, because con men and thieves are taking advantage of this situation.”

Such advice is especially important when buying or selling over the internet, he said.

“Be extremely wary,” he said of online transactions. “Be sure you have some way to absolutely confirm who that person is. My suggestion is, don’t do any business without being able to tangibly lay your eyes on it or meet someone. I know that seems like overkill to some people, but you just can’t be too careful.”

Williamson offers the following tips for avoiding fraud:

  • Verify with a trusted source the person you are attempting to do business with.
  • When selling items, consider payment options such as an escrow service or an online payment system.
  • Never accept a check or cashier’s check for more than the value of the sale.
  • Confirm checks are valid by contacting your bank or the issuing bank.
  • When buying items, never issue payment until the items are received unless you have complete trust in the seller.
  • Always inspect and document livestock or items before taking delivery — and remember, you have the right to refuse delivery.
  • If you believe you are a victim of a bait and switch purchase, act quickly. The more time that lapses, the more it appears you were initially agreeable to the transaction, and the ability to remedy the problem erodes.

To prevent theft, Williamson advises ranchers to:

  • Display a TSCRA member sign on gates and entrances. It is a proven deterrent.
  • Lock gates.
  • Brand cattle and horses. Make sure the brand is recorded with the county clerk.
  • Put a driver’s license number on all saddles, tack and equipment.
  • Videotape horses and tack. Keep complete and accurate descriptions on file. Establish an organized, easy-to-find proof of ownership file to save valuable time in the recovery process.
  • Count cattle regularly.
  • Don’t establish a routine when feeding. Vary the times you feed.
  • Be cautious about who gets keys and combinations.
  • If possible, park trailers and equipment where they are out of view from the roadway.
  • Keep tack rooms and saddle compartments on trailers locked.
  • Don’t feed in pens.
  • Participate in neighborhood-watch programs.
  • Don’t build pens close to a roadway.
  • Never leave keys in tractors or other equipment.

Taking precautions like this doesn’t mean panicking, Williamson said.

“Cattle raisers have weathered a lot of storms over the years, and we’ll weather this one too,” he said. “But in the meantime, be extra careful.”