4-1-9 Horse Purchasing Scam

Some scam artists in Nigeria and other West African countries have engineered a particularly nasty Internet scam, known as the 4-1-9 or advance fee fraud scheme. All classified ad web sites have been fair game to the fraudsters, including online horse ads.

According to the United States Secret Service, the 4-1-9 fraud (which refers to the Nigerian penal code section that addresses these frauds) is conducted by very creative individuals. A "buyer" from overseas sends an e-mail to the seller stating interest in the offered horse. Some of the guises include polo players, Arab princes, medical doctors, breeders, and wealthy owners buying the horses as "presents" for others. The false buyer then sends the seller a cashier's check for the amount of the horse plus more for shipping. The seller then wires the shipping amount to the shipper. Unfortunately, this "shipper" is either the same person or is in on the scam. The unfortunate seller soon finds that the cashier's check was counterfeit and that their bank is demanding the money back. Victims have been taken for more than $3,300.

The good news is that the scammers are only after the over-payment of shipping charges; horses are almost never picked up. The fraudsters count on the fact that people have the wrong idea about cashier's checks.

Mike O'Connor, accounts manager in the embassy banking section of Riggs Bank in London, says that it's a common fallacy that a cashier's check or money order is just like cash. "The only difference is that the guarantor is the bank and not the individual. The check can still be cancelled due to loss or theft," he explained. And of course, it can be counterfeit.

It's a mistake to think your bank will do the checking for you. They will not call the issuing company to see if the check is good. Even if they give you bad advice, you'll have to fight them (at your expense) for compensation. According to O'Connor, you can do the checking yourself. Look up the issuing bank on the Internet, give them a call, and relay the information listed on the check. The banks are aware of this fraud and can tell you whether the check is counterfeit.

Many web sites are intercepting and reporting these scams to the relevant authorities, but no one can protect you as well as you can. Tell any potential buyer that there is currently a fraud going on and that you need to discuss any deal over the phone. According to a poll of 4-1-9 scam victms, these fraudsters might suggest communicating through an agent or through a long-distance operator, possibly in an attempt to cover up the fact that they don't speak English. If you're suspicious of a scam, refuse to speak to anyone but the buyer. Do not refund any overages or pay additional costs such as shipping. Instead, you can offer to connect them with reputable professionals in your area. Also, scam victims said to be wary of anyone writing in broken English, urgently trying to close the deal, or berating you into releasing shipping funds as soon as possible.

If you suspect you have been victimized by this scam, contact the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C 20223; or call 202/406-5850.

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners