Widespread drought, rising prices, and feed shortages in the Great Plains and West have created a fertile field for cattle feed scammers to take advantage of ranchers working to protect their livestock and their bottom line.

In Montana, authorities are warning ranchers to treat with suspicion ads offering cattle feed at below-market prices. Ranchers report that shady dealers promising grain hay, barley straw, and wheat straw at low prices are collecting hefty advance payments, but never deliver. People have reported losses as high as $120,000, according to the Montana Office of Consumer Protection.

Federal Trade Commission investigators warn phony ads from feed scammers may show up in agricultural publications, on radio and on social media. Dishonest sellers also may create professional-looking websites and videos to create an air of legitimacy.

The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to help protect yourself from cattle feed scammers:

  • Check out a seller before you buy. Search online for the company’s name plus words like “review,” “scam,” or “complaint.”
  • Go slow. Avoid high-pressure sales pitches that require you to “lock in” prices by paying for all or part of your order before getting delivery, particularly if you don’t know the seller.
  • Talk with someone you trust. Before you pay, tell someone — a friend, family member, or neighbor — about the deal. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
  • Contact your state’s U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency office. Learn about USDA programs to help ranchers and farmers affected by drought and other natural disasters.