At least one Wisconsin State Farmer reader found it "highly suspicious" when they received calls offering to get them a better price on farm machinery they offered for sale in the newspapers classified section.
Diane and Joe Thome of Red Tail Ridge Dairy near Fond du Lac advertised some equipment for sale in August in the newspaper and within a day had gotten a call from a man who said he could get them more money for their equipment than they were asking.
All they had to do was sent him several hundred dollars. The man said he was calling from a finance company. "We've got buyers for your stuff," he told Joe Thome.
When the caller started asking for personal information from the Thomes they got suspicious and as soon as that happened the caller said he had to go.
Several weeks ago they advertised two more pieces of farm equipment in the newspaper and got a call from what sounded like the same man, Diane said. For $399 he could get them more money for their first piece of farm machinery than their asking price, Joe was told.
"When Joe said he was not sending him a red cent, he quickly got off the phone," says Diane. "Then he called right back on the other piece of machinery. He wasn't smart enough to realize he was calling the same person he had just talked to."
When the caller heard Joe's voice and realized his mistake he again quickly hung up. Diane said there were several missed calls after that and it appeared that the same party continued to call them.
The Thomes were worried that this was some kind of scam and that others might fall into some kind of trap so they called Wisconsin State Farmer publisher Trey Foerster to alert him.
Though there's no evidence that any of our readers have been taken in by the caller, or even that he was doing anything illegal, we wanted to make people aware that this was happening. The Thomes' experiences seem to indicate that he was calling down the list of our advertisers.
Sandy Chalmers, administrator of Wisconsin's Trade and Consumer Protection division in Madison, said the case provides a good opportunity to get some basic messages out to consumers so they can avoid getting taken.
"Assuming this caller is a legitimate business – and that's assuming a lot - my first advice would be for your classified advertiser to ask this caller for local people who have used the service and were happy with it," she told Wisconsin State Farmer.
"It's possible that this is legitimate and if it is, they won't object to also providing information in writing. Whenever people ask for money up front you should make sure to find out how you can get that money back, in this case if they didn't sell the machinery. That should be in writing."
Chalmers also said that if people getting this kind of calls are on the state's No Call List, this person should not be calling them anyway. "That should put your antenna up and you might ask yourself 'is this really someone I'm going to want to do business with?'"
Since the No Call List went into effect there has been a decrease in this kind of cold calls out of the blue to state residents.
Scammers will "make up some pretty incredible pitches to part you from your money," Chalmers said, commenting that the fees of $299 or $399 in this case should send up a red flag.
"Criminals are good at setting their price points. If someone loses that amount they may not be likely to try to find a way to get it back."