North Carolina hay growers have notified the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) about a possible scam connected to hay payments. Posing as a hay buyer, the scammer sends a fake cashier's check, made out for several thousand dollars more than the agreed-upon selling price, as payment for hay. Then the buyer claims he made a mistake and asks the seller to wire the difference back to him. The victim deposits the check and the bank credits his account. He assumes the check has cleared and wires the requested funds. But the check bounces, and the bank reduces his account by the wired amount, sometimes cleaning out the account and leaving a negative balance.

"We felt we should at least let our growers know that the problem was out there," says Brian Long of NCDA&CS. "A number of North Carolina farmers were contacted, but most figured out that something wasn't quite right. It's sort of like the hay version of some email scams."

According to Long, there are several ways to spot a scam: Communication from the buyer usually has multiple misspellings, poor grammar and typically looks like a form letter. A scammer will typically send a 'check' to the seller and pressure him to deposit it quickly and send the refund. These scams most often originate overseas, but accomplices may be located in the U.S. "We do encourage our growers who might be selling hay through the Internet or by phone to check up on the buyer any way they can," says Long.

The NCDA&CS Web site is a place for hay buyers and sellers to connect. "We try to match people who need hay with those who have hay to offer by providing the online meeting place," says Long. "Then it is up to the buyers and sellers to negotiate." Hay ads are free and out-of-state ads are welcome.

Long says the site has been particularly helpful this summer because it hasn't been a good one for hay production in North Carolina. Like in much of the South, the state's growers were hurt by the Easter weekend freeze. "What started with the impact of the late freeze has been compounded by dry conditions throughout the state," Long says. "We have a lot of animal agriculture in the state and a lot of animals that depend on forage crops. The dry weather is making many farmers nervous." While the whole state is dry, western counties have been especially hard hit.

Visit the NCDA&CS Web site at www.ncagr.com/HayAlert/index.htm. Contact Long at 919-733-4216.