Awareness Campaigns

Dealing With Online Chicken Scams

I’m sure scams have been commonplace for eons, whether in person, via phone, or more lately, online. I’ve noticed an exponential increase in ‘scam’ posts in Facebook farm groups, probably fueled by the burgeoning interest in backyard chickens coupled with the current shortage of chicks at feed stores and hatcheries. I usually don’t pay much attention to sales posts since I am not in the market for more birds. What I have noticed is the increasing warning posts from folks that have been the victims of said scammers.

scam is a sneaky or dishonest plan that’s meant to con someone. It’s basically a hoax dressed up to look like a real business plan, worthwhile invention, or investment idea. Scams are almost always designed to make money for their creators.

Despite Facebook’s rule of banning animal sales and rehoming posts it seems to be inconsistently enforced. Some online groups are fairly sizeable and I’m sure the moderators don’t have the time to screen questionable posts. I’ve been keeping track of them and have compiled a list of signs to watch out for:

Facebook Page is usually new with very little history. No address is listed so they can claim to be near you, wherever you are. May have changed their page name recently. Low number of Likes and Followers.

Don’t Know Their Business: Photos are mislabeled with the incorrect breed name and if you ask a few question it’s clear they are no experts with the product they are selling.

Posts written by cheeky chicken owners trying to catch scammers in the act:

Non-Standard English: Scammers frequently have glaring errors with the use of capitalization, word order, punctuation, phrasing, spelling and grammar.

Comments Off: Scam posts frequently have comments turned off, presumably so group members can’t call them out. Look for angry face emojis in the reactions section.

Private Message: A scam post that does have comments on will often respond to inquiries with a request for a Private Message. This is a red flag, as most sellers want to talk about their birds publicly as a way of promoting their business.

Too Good To Be True: They offer a wide array of different poultry or other farm animals. Whatever you are looking for, even rare breeds, they seem to have plenty on hand at any time, and ready to deliver. No waitlist. Sometimes low prices.

Photos are often from the wrong time of year, different settings, or with different people tending to the animals – clear indicators that they are likely poached from the internet.

Accomplice: They often have a person(s) who joins FB groups for the sole purpose of steering potential customers to their site with glowing reviews. Check the profile of this poster for their history.

Delivery Only: No pick-ups. No farm visits. Not even a chance to speak in person or ask questions. They often cite concerns about biosecurity for not wanting to meet on their farm premises.

Pay Now, Pick Up Later: They usually want a deposit or even full payment immediately in order to hold your birds, as proof of your commitment.

Use Secured Payment Systems: Scam artists often will try to get you to pay with a money order, cash, or wire because you won’t have any way to trace it or get it back. Always have a money trail and tracking to verify your financial transactions.

If you’re completing the purchase online, payment systems such as PayPal offer you protection as a buyer in the event the seller does not deliver the item you purchase. Scammers often ask you to select the ‘Friends and Family’ option knowing that folks will not be covered by purchase protection. Only select the ‘Goods and Services’ option.

Disappearing Act: No follow up after you pay, or if they do, they stall and ask for more money for additional expenses or shipping. Often they block you from contacting them.

No Delivery: Birds are not delivered.

Unethical sellers can take other forms as well. I’ve seen posts in which folks were not allowed to see the living condition of the birds they were purchasing which might have been a clue as to the health issues of their birds.

Buying Sight Unseen: Sometimes a seller has their birds in cardboard boxes ready for pick up, under the guise it was more convenient than trying to crate them after your arrival. What this often means is the buyer is not able to see/handle birds they are purchasing and don’t realize they are getting sick or injured birds until they arrive back home. Some things like mites/worms are relatively easy to treat but if infected with a respiratory infection, ALV or Marek’s your new birds can put your whole flock at risk.

Listen To Your Gut: Most of us are probably aware of someone who bought a sick or neglected animal because they felt compelled to rescue it. Unless you’ve got deep pockets those health issues might be expensive, and for some there will be no remedy. It’s heart-breaking to try to save an animal only to find you are faced with vet bills and the best option is still only humane euthanasia.

Other Farm Products: I have seen similar scams marketing related farm products such as chicken coops, chain link runs and automatic door openers. And then there are the Go Fund Me campaigns or T-shirt sales involving a woman promoting her autistic son’s chicken art (featuring a different woman in each post).

Last year, ads for this automatic door kept popping up in my Facebook feed and in every chicken and farm group I belonged to – all from different sellers. A friend asked if I wanted to go in with her order on an automatic door. I have no experience ordering online and wondered if was too good to be true: what looked like a quality product for only $39.

Turns out the real product is legit (manufacturer’s price $169), but the folks selling the knock-offs are not. Too bad because I got excited for a new door at a great price, but I’m glad we did a little online digging before placing our order.

Pre-Covid I routinely sold hatching and eating eggs, chicks and hens. I live on a small island off the west coast of Canada and commute via ferry to a city (pop. 100,000) where I often brought hatching eggs or birds for pick up. I also traveled a far bit as part of my work and was able to drop them off to folks in several surrounding communities. I never asked for payment upfront so the risk was all mine. Happily, I’ve rarely run into problems.

I have a long driveway with no egg stand at the road, rather I put eggs out in a small fridge or insulated cooler on my front porch. My regular customers PM me when they need eggs and leave the cash payment there. In some cases, it may be months before I meet one of them in person. No one has ever shorted me and some folks leave tips. They also return their egg cartons so I never run out of them.

The issues I have had include:

  • A no-show at my workplace for hatching eggs; luckily I was quickly able to find someone else who wanted them that day.
  • A woman, accompanied by her dog, met me at 8am to pick up hatching eggs. She only had a $50 bill (for a $20 purchase). I got the feeling that she was hoping I’d suggest she send me an e-transfer when she got home. Instead, I offered to stay with her dog while she went into the only store open at that time and get change. She did and a few months later ordered more eggs. I was prepared for another issue; there was: she didn’t show up so I crossed her off my list of folks I wouldn’t deal with.
  • A woman came to my house to pick up three hens for $65. As I loaded the boxes into her car she handed me a sealed envelope and said ‘Oh, it’s $60, isn’t it?’. I was a bit confused, but because I sell lots I didn’t question the amount. Later, I checked my ad and saw that I was indeed correct. Worse still, when I opened the envelope it contained $55 – something she must have known. I didn’t follow it up and crossed her off my customer list.

Advice For Buyers

Know Your Source: I am well known in my small community so it would be inadvisable for me to create problems for my customers. I spend lots of time chatting with folks who want to buy birds to ensure they are going to good homes. I always make myself available to answer any questions or deal with issues. I’ve worked hard to maintain a good reputation and often have waitlists for eggs and birds.

Do Your Due Diligence: Check up on farms before you buy. Check out feedback about them. Ask for recommendations from people you trust. Ask questions. Look for red flags. If you have doubts find another seller.

File Complaints: If you have a bad experience with a seller on FB leave feedback (if possible) or a negative emoji reaction on their page; send a complaint to FB; post your own experience in the group(s) that the buyer is in with screen shots of their homepage and any communication you’ve had as corroborating evidence. 

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