How Garden Scammers Reap Their Harvest

Watch out for these fake flower photos and other gardening tricksters: Internet Scambusters #874

Gardening fanatics are always on the lookout for something new or exotic.

So, scammers oblige by fooling them with doctored photos and fake product claims.

In other cases, phony tree surgeons and landscapers travel door-to-door to trick victims, as we report in this week’s issue.

Let’s get started…

How Garden Scammers Reap Their Harvest

Although we’ve passed the end of summer, many of us are still active in our gardens, winterizing and preparing for next year.

Unfortunately, garden scammers are also out in force, trying to dupe customers both online and in their own backyards.

Ranging from fake and unqualified contractors to websites offering exotic but fake plants and seeds, they’re still busy trying to get their hands on your money.

Garden Scams to Watch Out For

* Tree surgeons who are unlicensed, unbonded and uninsured — sometimes just going from door-to-door to offer their services. Doorstep solicitors often claim they’ve spotted a dangerous tree in your yard and offer to put it right for you.

Tree trimming is a skilled job. If it’s not done properly, a tree could die or collapse. And if the contractor is not insured and causes damage or injury, it could be costly for you.

Ignore these doorstep tricksters. Seek recommendations from friends and family, always get at least two bids, check reputations online — then check out their credentials. Beware of very low bids — you’ll likely get what you pay for — as well as outrageous overcharging, particularly targeted at older folk.

* The lawn doctor at your door. Again, this involves door-to-door solicitors who say they spotted that your lawn needs special attention — and whose lawn doesn’t? — and they just happen to have a load of fertilizer and seed in their truck.

They’ll often tell you that, if you don’t take action soon, things are going to go from bad to worse — but they’re here to save you.

Usually, they don’t quote a price upfront or, if they do, they later claim they needed to use more than they planned. You end up with a lawn covered in goodness knows what and, in what happened in a recent case in California, a bill for hundreds of dollars.

Beat this scam by politely turning down these con artists. If you think your lawn needs treatment, contact a reputable specialist.


* Dubious gardening supply sites and catalogs. You’re a rare person if a colorful plant and seed catalog has never shown up in your mailbox. You leaf through the pages, taken in by dramatic images promising fruit, shrubs, and blooms better than anything you’ve ever seen before.

Sometimes, catalogs come from highly-reputable suppliers with well-known, trustworthy names. But others, sometimes equally big, are less reputable. Photos are artificially doctored to make plants look incredible and trees bursting with fruit. But when your shrub arrives, all you get is a stick with a few roots.

Even if you plant it successfully, it may turn out to be totally different to the plant you thought you were buying. This happened to a member of the Scambusters team who bought a lime tree that turned out to be bitter orange, a multi-variety peach tree that was a single-variety, diseased plant, and a climbing rose that only ever reached two feet tall!

These came from a large mail-order company, trading under several different names.

Avoid this scam by, again, checking reputations online, looking for obviously “Photoshopped” images and being wary of what seem to be outstanding bargain prices. Or visit your local garden center.

* Exotic seeds and bulbs sold online. This is a variation of the above scam. In this case, the tricksters drastically change the colors of blooms or show them flourishing in places they could never grow.

We’ve seen blue tulips (they don’t exist), avocado trees growing in cold-zone areas and realistic looking and stunning houseplants that turn out to be artificial (usually mentioned in tiny print at the bottom of an ad).

Many of these scams, particularly selling seeds, turn up on reputable sites like eBay and Amazon, accompanied by all sorts of outrageous claims. Here’s a fascinating expose that recently appeared on the tech site Mashable: Inside the Deeply Weird Fake Seed Scams That Are All Over Amazon.

In another variation of this scam, victims buy hard-to-find seeds from overseas suppliers, notably in the Far East. It’s touch and go if you’ll ever receive them or, if you do, that they’ll actually germinate (which is why they’re hard to find!).

Finally, although we’re still several weeks away, the holiday season is on the horizon. Beware of fake websites purporting to belong to Christmas tree farms, offering to deliver your tree. Again, you’ll need to check their reputation. Better yet, put your festive tree-hunting gear on and go find what you’re looking for!

And, with celebrations in mind, also be on your guard for fake online florists. Low prices, and free offers (like vases) are red flags. Use local florists or well-known national names instead.

Gardening is an increasingly popular pastime, both as a therapy and to have your own home-grown produce. No wonder that garden scammers are preparing for a harvest.

Alert of the Week

Tech support impostors are catching on to the trend of TV viewers switching from cable and satellite services to streaming shows on computers and mobile devices.

Phone callers say they’re from one of the streaming service providers like Roku, Netflix, or Amazon, and that the victim has to update the streaming app they use on their device.

From there on, it’s just like other tech support scams. If victims give the callers access to their PCs, the scammers install malware onto the devices.

If you get a call like this, it’s a dud. Streaming companies don’t phone subscribers about support issues. You have to contact them first.

Time to close today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!