Pet adoption scams
Experts believe at least 80% of sponsored advertisements about pets may be fake.
How most of the scams work:
You see a desirable animal listed for sale online, often on a classifieds website like Craigslist.org. Next, you reach out to the prospective seller and express interest in acquiring the animal. After you send money to the alleged owner to pay for the pet, you are told that additional funds are needed to cover the cost of things like “a ventilated shipping crate,” “insurance,” or other reasons. Regardless of how much money is sent, the alleged seller will find new reasons to ask for additional payment. This continues until you realize you have been scammed at which point you could be out hundreds or thousands of dollars.
In reality, the entire act is a farce. The cute pet pictures that prompted the initial outreach by the consumer are usually simply pulled off the Internet and used to create attractive (but fake) listings. The alleged sellers don’t own any actual pets and are just out to bilk victims of all the cash they can.
To avoid becoming a victim of a pet adoption scam, there are several steps you should take:
- Skip the pure breed puppy requirement and adopt from a local shelter. There is an abundance of reputable non-profit animal shelters out there to choose from. By choosing to adopt your new family member instead, you will not only protect yourself from fraud, but you will also benefit from a worthy cause. There’s likely to be a lower cost to obtain the pet, and you’ll be dealing with a reputable non-profit organization.
- Always meet your future pet in person before paying. Fraudsters will come up with a million reasons why you can’t see the pet in person and will offer you pictures instead. Insist on seeing the pet in person. If the seller will not allow you to see the animal in person, it's almost certainly a scam.
- Beware of any seller who says she’s located out-of-town (or worse, overseas). Dealing with local sellers is usually the smart move.
- Never wire money for any purchase. Never send money for a pet purchase unless you have seen the animal in person (as opposed to simply online). If the seller asks for payment via wire transfer, that’s a big red flag of fraud. Also beware of requests to pay by reloadable prepaid card, iTunes gift card, or another unusual payment method. Requests for payment via wire transfer (Western Union or MoneyGram) or prepaid debit card (Green Dot MoneyPak, Reloadit, or similar cards) are often a red flag for potential fraud. Payment sent via these methods is practically the same as sending cash.
- Do your research. Websites and postings fraudsters use can appear realistic because they steal photos and language from reputable breeders. Try copying some text from their page and pasting it into a search engine in quotes and see if another breeder uses that same language. You may be dealing with a scammer if another website uses the same or similar language.
- Check references. Do your own due diligence about the background of the seller before sending money. The American Kennel Club and the Humane Society of the United States are good places to start. Ask for detailed information on the seller, including full name, phone number, and mailing address. Search online for information on the seller. If no information comes up in the search, or you see negative reviews, it could be a scammer instead of a legitimate seller.
- Don’t trust “free pet” offers. Fraudsters will sometimes use the offer of a “free pet to a good home,” as a way to ensnare an adopter into paying for made-up vet bills or fake shipping costs.
- Make sure their pet shipper is legitimate. If you do take the risk of having your pet shipped, ask for the name and contact information of the shipping company they intend to use. After you have the name, use a search engine to find that shipping company and give them a call from the number on their website to make sure they know the breeder.