Editor's letter (July 2 issue)

In recent issues we’re reported on bogus adverts for non-existent African grey parrots (“Fancier falls for parrot scam” June 4 and “Reader pursues the birdman of Cameroon” June 25). And in this week’s news section we highlight a similar scam that involves toucans (“Reader lifts the lid on internet advert scams”, page 4).
Typically, in these kinds of scams, contact between the seller and purchaser occurs via email. The seller then requests a payment up front, usually by money order or wire transfer. The location of the birds is usually somewhere in the United States or the UK, but then the scam artist will concoct some kind of story about the birds currently being in Africa, which means the money will now need to be wired to Cameroon.
In some instances, the “seller” will send pictures of the birds in question, but often these are stock shots or photographs stolen from other websites.
Now, if a stranger asked me to send £400 to Cameroon, I’d be suspicious, but a surprising number of people fall for the scam. So how do you spot one?
First, be wary of ads that offer birds, usually large parrots or hard-to-come-by exotics, at strangely low rates. 
Second, watch for a limited grasp of written English. 
Third, be suspicious if the seller is out of the country, and especially if they claim to be doing missionary work in Cameroon or similar. 
Four, pass it up if they request that you pay for the bird in advance using a money order, because once cashed it can be almost impossible to trace and you’ll never get your money back. In fact, if they want money up front and you haven’t seen the bird at all, then it really is a case of buyer beware.
In all cases, when buying birds through advertisements, you need to exercise a degree of caution. And remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.