It seems that every day at PetRelocation we receive questions from people who have fallen victim to pet scams. Many people outside of the pet industry have never heard of pet scams, so it is little surprise when well-meaning people end up losing money and time on one of these fraudulent offers. Here, we’ve provided some essential information on what a pet scam is, how to recognize and avoid a pet scam, and what to do when you think you’ve found such a scam.
What is a “pet scam”?
A pet scam occurs when a person pays money for a pet and never receives the animal. Typically, this happens when someone is looking for purebred puppies or kittens on the internet. Pet scams are often called “puppy scams” as victims are usually people looking for a specific breed of puppy (especially expensive breeds such as Bulldogs or toy breeds).
It is safe to assume that pets advertised in pet scams do not actually exist. Some scammers may go so far as to send “photos” of the pet, but they are likely just photos taken from internet searches. Scammers are simply trying to make money off of you and will tell you anything (including sob stories) to get you to send money.
How do I recognize a pet scam?
There are a few common features of online pet postings that are telltale signs of a pet scam:
- Pets are advertised on a free site such as Craigslist
- Advertisement states that pet is available for free, as long as responder pays shipping costs
- Advertiser requires that money be sent via Western Union, MoneyGram, or a similar service
- Offer to ship pet to your doorstep for $200 – $300 (real pet relocations cost a lot more than that, especially if pets are being shipped internationally) using a professional shipping service
- Tell you that the pet will be shipped within a very short time frame (24 hrs) after payment. This is impossible, as obtaining the necessary paperwork for a pet move is a lengthy process.
- Advertiser uses a free email address (such as Gmail or Yahoo) and uses poor spelling and grammar in the post
- Telephone number is not given in email correspondence. If a number is given and the country code is 237 (Cameroon), this is a scam.
How do I confirm that this is a pet scam?
If the listing meets some of the above criteria but you are still unsure, try googling the email address given. If you find multiple listings for pets on other sites, this is a scam.
If you are still unsure, try contacting the advertiser directly. Try to make arrangements to retrieve the animal yourself, saying you will fly to wherever the pet is located. If the advertiser refuses, this is a scam.
What do I do if I’ve found a pet scam?
Unfortunately, unless a transaction takes place (i.e. you send money and receive no pet), a scam does not technically occur and there is nothing legally that can be done to stop the scammer.
The best course of action once you have confirmed a pet scam is to report the scam to as many anti-fraud sites as possible in order to make the scam easily found on search engines and prevent others from falling victim to the scam. You should also report the ad to the site which is hosting it (e.g. Craigslist).
Even if you have actually fallen victim to a scam, it is nearly impossible to take legal action. Scammers use throwaway email accounts and cell phones and fake names and addresses, so tracking down the real person responsible is almost impossible. The scammer who tells you she is in Colorado is more likely in an internet café in Cameroon (thus the grammatical issues with many scam correspondences).
Is there a current list of pet scammers?
Yes, you can find that list here. This list is, of course, not comprehensive as scammers will likely create a new free email account once one of their scams has been discovered. However, this list can still prove useful for recognizing a false pet transportation company.
How do I avoid falling victim to a pet scam?
Never buy pets over the internet. This is the easiest way to avoid a pet scam. Never pay for an animal you haven’t seen and interacted with in-person. There are surely plenty of cats and dogs looking for a loving home at your local animal shelter, so if you are looking to add a pet to your life try checking there first.
If you are really set on one specific breed and you can’t find that type of pet at a local shelter, try locating a local breed-specific rescue organization. The AKC has a helpful list of national breed-specific organizations which can point you towards local rescues. Additionally, if you select a breed on Vetstreet’s list of cat breeds, the “Finding” tab will lead you to rescue organizations for that breed.
Were you aware of pet scams before reading this post? Have you ever seen or been victim to a pet scam? Tell us about it in the comments below.