Horse Internet Scams
Steal Trust As Well As Money


Over the past few years, social media and online classified sites have risen sharply in the horse world. Most people now advertise their horses for sale via the internet – and horse rescues have found Facebook and Twitter to be great tools for raising funds and awareness for their cause.

However, there is a dark side to the horse internet community. It can be an easy venue for fraudulent con artists to quickly spread scams among a wide population of unsuspecting horse people. Fortunately, the reverse is also true – people can also rapidly warn the community of scams in an equally viral way.

Lynn Reardon on one of her OTTB rescues

Most of us in the horse world have heard of two particularly persistent online scams. You list a horse (or trailer) for sale on an internet classified site. A potential buyer emails you, offering to buy and ship the horse with a certified check. There is one small inconvenience – the check is for an amount higher than the price of the horse. A matter easily solved – if you would just send a check to the buyer for the amount of the difference. Sounds like such an easy sale. Except, of course, that the certified check is counterfeit – and you just sent a legitimate check off to a con artist.

The second scam targets horse rescue supporters. An organization sets up a Facebook page (or a website) – and begins posting photos of sad horses in kill pens at local auctions, along with pleas for donations to “bail” the horses out. Funds pour in, from horse lovers all around the country, and the horses are “saved” – but no follow-up is ever posted showing the horses in good homes. Instead, another round of photos is posted, showing new horses in the kill pens – also in need of bail. Turns out that the organization isn’t really a charity, but a scam – and the funds end up helping the scammer’s checkbook, not the horses.

These internet scams erode trust as well as bank accounts in the horse community. People become hesitant to support rescues and charities online. For example, I run small racehorse adoption charity in Texas called LOPE (“LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers”). We help ex-racehorses find new homes through our adoption ranch and online services. Our budget is modest and we rely quite a bit on Facebook, Twitter and our website to attract adopters, donors and volunteers.

So how can someone tell the difference between our legitimate charity and a scam? There are several ways to do this:

    A legitimate charity will have an IRS 501(c) (3) status – and the documentation (via a letter from the IRS called a determination letter) to prove that. If you are unsure about an organization, ask about their charity designation and to see their IRS determination letter.
    There are websites such as GuideStar that provide information on nonprofits currently in operation. You can go to this site, search for a charity by name and get information on its IRS charitable status, tax returns, board of directors, and so on.
    A simple Google search by the name of the organization can often provide good information. Does a slew of scathing posts on internet horse boards come up on the search, full of accusations of fraud? If so, that is probably a group to avoid.

If you want to support a horse charity, but aren’t sure which ones are legitimate, you can sometimes get good information by going to websites like Thoroughbred Charities of America. TCA gives grants to horse charities that help Thoroughbred horses in some way. Many of the groups that receive TCA support also help other breeds of horses. TCA screens the groups carefully before giving out grants – so if you check out the list of the groups they support, you can feel much more confident that they are legitimate horse charities. There are many other foundations that support horse rescues and searching their donee lists can also be a good source of information.

For the most part, simple homework on your part can quickly help you separate the wheat from the chaff in the online horse rescue world.

Good equine charities welcome scrutiny and questions – because we understand that the more you learn about us, the more you will want to support us and help us help more horses.

Lynn Reardon is the founder and executive director of LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers. Prior to founding LOPE, she worked in an office in the Washington, D.C, area for too many years. Lynn lives on the LOPE ranch near Austin, TX, and has written a book about her adventurous career change from D.C. cubicle worker to Texas ex-racehorse wrangler.

The book is Beyond the Homestretch: What Saving Racehorses Taught Me About Starting Over, Facing Fear and Finding My Inner Cowgirl.




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