Agricultural safety includes guarding against scammers

Expositor file photo

MANITOULIN – Canadian Agricultural Safety Week coincides with March being Competition Bureau of Canada’s Fraud Prevention Month. Agricultural safety extends beyond physical safety on the farm to include keeping oneself safe from bad actors, a persistent problem in farm communities including instances of scammers at work on Manitoulin Island in recent months.

On February 18, Island farmer Peter Flikweert posted on a Facebook sales page to warn about a potential transaction he aborted after getting concerns from the behaviour of the seller.

A profile listed as Jack Kaufman, he alleges, posted an ad offering farm fencing supplies. He called the number listed but instead spoke with a man named Adam, his partner.

“Adam wanted money from me to order goat fencing. That is something I don’t do and (I) was very clear that I would pay cash upon receiving the product,” he stated in his post.

His wife did some sleuthing and discovered that the phone number matched other farmers’ complaints about scams in southern Ontario. The number allegedly belongs to a man named Adam Ruthven, a well-known name in Ontario agricultural circles, who uses several aliases.

The Expositor contacted an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer whose name appeared in an earlier Facebook post warning about the scams. That officer redirected the inquiry to OPP Peterborough County detachment media officer Joe Ayotte, who said there had been two incidents in the Peterborough County OPP area related to fraud.

“The victims purchased bales of hay from Ruthven, which were not delivered. There are currently two warrants out for Ruthven’s arrest regarding these incidents. The charges are for fraud under $5,000,” Provincial Constable Ayotte stated, adding that he could only speak to occurrences within his detachment’s area.

OPP issued the above two warrants in February and September of 2020 but, as Mr. Flikweert’s post indicated, Mr. Ruthven has allegedly still been active.

The Expositor contacted OPP Northeast Region to inquire if Mr. Ruthven had any charges in that region but spokesperson Carlo Berardi said he did not have any records pertaining to the man.

Other commenters on Mr. Flikweert’s public post shared their experiences with the man. Some alleged he used guilt tactics when people resisted paying up-front, saying fellow farmers should stand together. Another person said he was trying to sell farm equipment with unrealistic prices, and was pushy in the following days trying to get them to order.

An online post dated October 2017 alleged that Mr. Ruthven scammed a couple out of $1,000 after they ordered a load of logs to heat their home and agreed to pay half up front.

Another recent incident on Manitoulin Island involved the potential sale of a farm property, but the would-be victims shut it down before it advanced too far.

On March 4, Grey Bruce OPP arrested Mr. Ruthven. The Expositor contacted Grey Bruce media officer Rick Sadler, but he said the warrants were from other police services and he could not speak to the particular charges. The man “was involved in an occurrence and arrested on the strength of a couple other services’ warrants,” said Constable Sadler.

The Expositor contacted other police services in the Kawartha Lakes area but none were able to provide information to this newspaper by press deadline Monday.

Upon learning of the arrest, Mr. Flikweert simply said “crime doesn’t pay.”

Agencies exist to 

protect against scams

Scammers are continually devising new ways to defraud people, especially around this time of year during tax season. The Competition Bureau of Canada has designated March as Fraud Prevention Month and many Canadian agencies have anti-fraud education campaigns to help people defend themselves from bad actors.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) maintains a website featuring information and statistics about scams in Canada at AntiFraudCentre-CentreAntiFraude.ca.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as of February 28, there have been more than 13,500 reports of pandemic-related fraud, resulting in a loss of $7.2 million across 11,789 victims (or an average loss of about $600 per reported victim).

These numbers are likely lower than real figures, as many people hesitate to file a report when they become victims of scams. This may be connected to a variety of factors, from not knowing who to contact to the stigma associated with feeling like you were tricked or duped into making a poor decision.

OPP Provincial Constable Marie Ford frequently helped on these presentations as a community services officer. Her key advice was to slow down the conversation (many scammers try to create a sense of panic and urgency to override victims’ judgment) and to cut off communication when in doubt.

“It’s okay to hang up on these people. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” she said at a February 2019 fraud prevention workshop.

Anyone who has fallen victim of a scam should immediately report it to police, so these forces can warn others and potentially work to stop the scam at the source.

“That’s what we’re here for, this is our job. I’d rather you call and ask questions than you (fall victim),” Constable Ford said at the workshop.

CAFC’s website has a fraud reporting page, too, which helps to build its index of active scams, also linked on its homepage.

It is also important for people to be aware of potential warning signs that they may be victims of identity theft, as these can be subtle changes that may otherwise go unnoticed.

These include not receiving regular bills with no apparent reason for the change, as well as getting bills for goods or services they had never purchased. Some scammers will even mass-mail fake invoices for various products in the hopes that companies don’t question the bill and pay it.

If one suspects their identity has possibly been stolen, a wise action would be to contact the fraud departments at one of Canada’s two leading credit bureaus, Equifax or TransUnion.

Pandemic has increased scams

A high-profile agriculture-related fraud in Canada took place about a year ago at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Organizers of the annual CropConnect conference in Manitoba contacted the hotel that was to host the event but began receiving fake emails in return, according to a February story in CBC Manitoba. One of the reply emails told the contracted event planner that the hotel’s billing process had changed due to COVID-19.

While the conference team would normally send a cheque for the cost of the event, they were instead directed to wire money into a bank account.

In May, the hotel said it had not yet received payment, which is what led the conference organizers to report the fraud and begin the investigation.

They were lucky in this case—the money was still sitting in a Quebec bank account and, after legal proceedings, the non-profit conference organizing body recouped its losses.