Those puppy eyes. Those kitten whiskers. It's easy to fall in love with a pet you see advertised online — but you should always think twice before making any plans to buy it. Pet scams are a popular way for fraudsters to dupe people out of their money or into giving up personal information. Before you pay anyone for your next pet, learn how common pet scams work and how to protect yourself.
After exchanging a few messages with the seller and paying for the pet, victims may be left empty-handed.”
How pet scams workThe most common pet scam goes like this: You see a pet adoption ad on social media or another online platform. After exchanging a few messages with the seller and paying for the pet, it never shows up, the seller's gone missing, and you're left empty-handed. Twists on this scenario abound. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports of these online pet scams:
- “Free” pets for adoption. A scammer may offer a “free” pet for adoption, but phony fees pop up for vet office visits, travel crates, flights, handler fees or grooming. The scam may also involve a fake website designed to arrange for shipment of the pet.
- Pet products that never arrive. In one case, the BBB website received more than 3,300 inquiries about a company whose products were never shipped, and which had no telephone number or physical address.1
- Pet sitting jobs. In this scam, the victim is contacted through social media, a legitimate job website, or email with a tempting pet-sitting job. Once the job is accepted (but before you do any work), the fraudster will claim they need personal details (name, address, telephone number, Social Security number, banking information) to set up direct deposit or payment in advance.2 In reality, the fraudster is just stealing your personal information.
How to avoid a pet scam
Before you pay for a pet you've found through an online ad, do some homework. The BBB and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommend these steps.
- Do a reverse image search of the pet. Fraudsters often use the same images again and again. If the image is a stock photo or taken from somewhere else, it's probably a scam.
- Watch for typos and odd phrases. If you find a lot of mistakes in the seller's ad, messages or website, you're probably dealing with a fraudster. 1
- Learn how much reputable sellers charge for the breed. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, it's likely a scam.”
- Research the seller. Verify their contact information, look up their credentials, and confirm reviews from previous clients. Search online for their name plus the words “scam” or “complaint.”
- Meet the pet in person whenever possible. Legitimate rescues and breeders want you and your new pet to be a good match. Move on if they won't allow an in-person visit, video chat, or even a phone call.
- Never pay to ship a pet if you can't verify that the seller is reputable on the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association's website.
- Never pay via wire transfer, gift card or money transfer app. If the seller insists, it's probably a scam. Remember you probably won't get a refund if you pay via a money transfer app or gift card. 3
- Adopt locally. If you can, consider adopting from a local rescue or animal shelter. These organizations will list pricing and fees online, and you often won't need to pay until you pick up your pet. They can also offer tips on finding a reputable breeder if that's what you prefer.
What to do if you're the victim of a pet scam
If you've been affected by a pet scam, it's important to report it as soon as possible. In some cases, your money may be recovered.
- Contact your financial institution. Call Patelco at 800.358.8228 or send a secure message through Patelco Online™.
- Register a complaint with the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.
- If the scam occurred online, file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov.
- Inform the California State Attorney General.
- File a report with the BBB's Scam Tracker.
- Report it to PetScams.com, an online list of pet scammers.
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