Pet Scams Tug at the Heartstrings

Bad guys do not limit their scams to defraud only humans. They also target our four-legged friends. Pet scammers advertise free or inexpensive kittens and puppies for adoption on fake websites, classified ads, and social media pages. Pet scams increased during the COVID-19 pandemic when many wanted to add new members to households during extended stays at home.

Pet Scams by the numbers

According to the Better Business Bureau, 80 percent of sponsored pet ads may be fake. Roughly 10,000 complaints were made about fraudulent businesses selling dogs in the last three years. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that only 10 percent of victims report these crimes, and 60 percent of these reports indicate consumers never received the animal or received animals with undisclosed health issues.

Typically, these fraudsters will request an advance payment by money transfer, gift cards, or through apps like Venmo. The payments are believed to go toward shipping fees and medical costs before the pet can be delivered. After the hopeful buyer makes the payment, the pet is delivered, and the scammer will demand more money. The scammer will even go as far as sending emails posing as an airline shipping the animal and requesting more money for items like kenneling, pet insurance, or shots. In most cases, the pet will never arrive, and the buyer will be out the money and the animal they were promised.

Legitimate breeders are cooperative in providing documentation and will be selective to ensure the pet you want is a good fit for you and your family. There is usually an application process and deposit required to hold the pet before purchase. Some breeders require payments in advance, while others accept the final payment at the time of pick up.

Don’t become a victim of pet fraud!

Five ways to spot and stop pet scammers

  • Start with a local rescue or animal shelter. Pets can be adopted for a small fee, which usually includes any necessary shots and spay or neutering. You can consider fostering at no cost.
  • Do your research. Check standard prices for the breed of pet you are considering. A purebred dog for free or at a significant discount could be a red flag. Check BBB Business Profiles for complaints and reviews before you make the purchase. Reputable sellers will have positive reviews from satisfied pet owners.
  • Have an in-person or video visit. See the pet yourself by meeting with the seller or requesting a live video call to view the animal, meet the breeder, and evaluate the facility. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit. If the seller does not want you to visit or see the pet prior to purchase, this is likely a scam.
  • Ask for proof. Ensure the pet was seen by a veterinarian and request the proper medical documentation when you bring the pet home.
  • How to pay. Legitimate sellers will never ask for payment by cash apps, gift cards, or wire transfers. If the seller appears too anxious to get your money, it is a red flag.

If you spot one of these scams or are a victim of fraud, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau.

Teresa Chandler
Teresa Chandler
Teresa Chandler is a Senior Special Investigations Unit Investigator with ICW Group. She served in the U.S. Navy as a Gunner's Mate for over ten years, with two deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom. She obtained her BS degree in Criminal Justice Administration and was a claims adjuster for over three years before coming to ICW Group in 2017. She is a native San Diegan, the oldest of six siblings (two Marine brothers), a world traveler, a cat mom, and an occasional dog foster mom. She also loves hiking and event planning.

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