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By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE — An Internet scam artist picked the wrong mark by trying to swindle someone in law enforcement.

Staci Bowman, a Wallowa County Sheriff's Office dispatcher, was not taken in by the scheme, but she wants to warn others about it.

Bowman was attempting to sell a horse over the Internet.

A bogus check was sent by Fed-Ex to Bowman, in an apparent attempt to con her out of $7,700.

The check was for $8,800 — with the purchase price of the horse, $1,100. Bowman was asked to wire $7,700 to a shipper in London.

A warning of a similar scam has also been issued by Equine.com, touted as the world's largest marketplace for horses.

Heather Hoff, marketing vice president, said that several people have lost money this way.

In some cases, the buyer shows up with a bogus cashier's check.

Bowman had received a response to her Internet ad from a Balla Mohammed. It said, "I am chief balla representing POLO FEDERATION in my country. We buy horses from around the world for our monthly polo sport event."

Bowman was suspicious that the buyer immediately agreed to purchase the horse without asking typical

questions about injuries, pedigree or training.

Buyers often want to know if a horse has been trained to load. They also typically ask for additional photos of the


Bowman was suspicious that the buyer agreed to pay all overseas shipping costs for a modestly priced horse.

Then fellow dispatcher Sharon Harris alerted Bowman to the Equine.com warning.

The cashier's check sent to Bowman was much larger than the purchase price. Balla asked Bowman to "pls wire the balance to our shipper via western union..." to Roderick E. Williams in London.

"Pls do not bother about any shipping arrangements — as soon as they receive the money they will contact you to pick up the horse; we do not want any

delay. ..."

Bowman called the bank in California, and learned the check was counterfeit.

"There seems to be a problem with the check ... ", Bowman e-mailed Balla, adding that if he wanted the horse he'd have to send funds via Western Union, plus a $1,000 NSF/Counterfeit Check fee, to Wes Kilgore, Enterprise police chief. Kilgore is Bowman's brother.

Brent Jensen of Jaz Ranch in Joseph was similarly approached on the Internet. He did not have a horse advertised, so he doesn't know from where his Internet address was obtained. Right out of the chute, Jensen thought it was a scam.

Victims have reported receiving high-pressure telephone calls, urging them to make the transaction quickly.

Jensen, with experience selling horses internationally, knows that there's a minimum 30-day quarantine. He typically gets to know the buyers before a deal is made. They often come to see the horse.

Jensen received a second call to notify him of a new Internet address. The scam, apparently had been discovered, and had to move to a new address.

A warning printed in the National Foundation Quarter Horse Journal notes that people have been receiving inquiries from a "potential buyer in Nigeria or Africa." After the horse has been shipped, they commonly ask for a refund of the shipping charges as part of a finders' fee arrangement.

Such scams are not limited to horses or to the Internet. There have been reports of scams involving dogs or other items being sold through newspaper classified ads.

Sam Summers, editor of the National Foundation Quarter Horse Journal, said that someone tried to bilk him in a lawsuit settlement scam, but he didn't fall for it. The publication can be contacted at 426-8813.

Equine.com warns people:

• Be suspicious of offers of more money than the asking price. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true.

• Don't be pressured. Take the time to think things through.

• Don't give out bank information.

• Don't release a horse without at least verifying the check at the bank.

• Never complete a transaction without writing down the terms of the deal and having each party sign it.

For complaints, use the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Complaint Form: https://rn.ftc.gov/dod/wsolcq$startup?_ORG_CODE=PU01.


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