BRISBANE-based agribusiness-specialist lawyer Trent Thorne is warning buyers to beware of potential scams when shopping for rural or farm-based products over the internet.
The food specialist lawyer, who works with law firm McCullough Robertson, has put forward several tips on how to avoid potential scams or traps.
As an example, he cited a group of Condobolin farmers who thought they were purchasing high quality fertiliser from China last year.
After the original Chinese fertiliser supplier cancelled at the last minute on the newly formed importation business, a last-minute order was placed through a seemingly reputable company which advertised on an official Chinese government website.
As reported in Fairfax Agricultural Media, the farmers opened the first of 27 containers on-farm, after the consignment passed AQIS inspections, but realised they’d been ripped off.
After independent testing was conducted, the bagged “fertiliser” product was determined to be nothing more than 600 tonnes of contaminated dirt; leaving the 17 Central West NSW farmers $300,000 out of pocket.
Negotiations then unfolded, involving federal politicians and the Chinese Embassy, over the costs of re-exporting the dirt to China, with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service claiming they weren’t liable for those costs.
Mr Thorne also cited recent reporting by the ABC of a major supplier and producer of organic farm products, sourcing certain core materials from Chinese suppliers.
But unbeknown to the organic supplier, the products contained elevated levels of benzene and other related chemicals.
If these products had made their way into the production system, it may have impacted on the growers’ ability to claim that their produce was certified as organic and this could have potentially exposed the organic supplier to litigation from disgruntled growers.
Mr Thorne said one of the potential problems with purchasing products direct from foreign suppliers is that not only are farmers exposing themselves to potentially fraudulent conduct, but also potentially depriving themselves of the ability to seek redress.
For example, he said if a similar fertiliser product was purchased from a stock and station agent in Australia and the product did not function as represented, the farmer would be able to make contact with the agent and/or a sales representative from the company to arrange for some form of warranty payment.
Mr Thorne said “clearly”, there were many cost advantages to acquiring products direct from the foreign supplier or over the internet; particularly given the increasing costs of a number of regular farm inputs.
He said producers would be well advised to seek out the best price that is available to them.
But he said the following matters need to be taken into consideration when purchasing items over the internet or from overseas based suppliers.
(a) always, always trust your instinct. If the price that is being offered seems too good to be true, it more than likely will be;
(b) wherever possible use a secure payment method such as credit card or PayPal. Depending on your credit card, there may be some protection afforded if there is a non-supply of the relevant product. Never use a money transfer or a direct deposit to send payments to people as these are readily open to abuse;
(c) in terms of agricultural products, if a sample of the product can be sent to you before ordering a major consignment, this process should be followed. Until trust can be established between the buyer and the seller, the goods could also be held in escrow pending their testing by an independent third party and payment and delivery made contingent upon the product meeting pre-purchase specifications;
(d) if you have any concerns, seek advice from the Office of Fair Trading or a trusted adviser.