Hay rustlers are putting a cyber spin on a scheme to bilk a few bales out of Arkansas producers, according to Tom Troxel, professor/associate head of the Animal Science Department of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

The scam surfaced as producers in Van Buren, Washington and Hempstead counties received e-mails from a supposed buyer. But the producers smelled a rat.

“In one incident, two Van Buren County producers, who listed their hay for sale in Extension's hay directory located on its Web site, received e-mails from a person … who said he wanted to purchase 15 bales of hay,” Troxel said.

The man “asked the producers for their mailing address so he could send them a check via FedEx. The amount of the check was to cover the hay purchase price and pay the shipping charges. The man told the hay producers he would arrange for a shipper to arrive at their farm to pick up the hay. The hay producers were supposed to pay the shipper.”

One of the producers contacted Danny Griffin, Van Buren County Extension agent, and inquired about the transaction. Griffin was suspicious because the buyer usually pays the shipper. That was the key that made the producers question the transaction.

One of the Van Buren producers took the check to his bank and asked the bank to verify the check.

“The check was fraudulent,” Troxel said. “The check had a name on it and it had the National City Bank of Frankenmuth, Mich. The return address on the FedEx envelope was 123 Autobahn, New York, N.Y.”

The stories in Washington and Hempstead counties were similar. Law enforcement officials have been notified.

Each bale is worth $30 to $35. “By keeping amounts small, he apparently hoped to fly under the radar and not draw suspicion,” Troxel said. “The alleged buyer could have gotten a load of hay free, and he could have turned around and sold it.

“Many agricultural producers in the state are trusting individuals. To them a man's word is bond. They're used to doing business with friends and neighbors with their word and a handshake. They're good honest sincere people. In this case, they would have been out the cost of the hay and the shipping.

“Producers just need to be cautious. Computers and the Internet open them up to fraudulent schemes. You must investigate a proposal if it doesn't sound right.”

Troxel said the alleged buyer told the producers he had gotten their contact information from the Arkansas Hay Directory on the Cooperative Extension Service Web site at www.uaex.edu. The directory is a service to help connect producers with excess hay to sell and potential buyers.