Con artists play on our love of animals with pet scams to cheat us and put our pets at risk: Internet ScamBusters #302
Pet scams are on the rise. Sometimes the tricksters are after
our money — and the animals may not even exist. Other times
they want our pets to sell for profit or experimentation. We
show you their 7 most common tricks.
We think you’ll first like visiting this week’s issue of
Scamlines — What’s New in Scams?
And before we begin, we encourage you to take a look at this
week’s most popular articles from our other sites:
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What to Do When the Schoolyard Bully is Harassing Your Child: Tips to help you should your child become the victim of the schoolyard bully this year.
Preparing Your Home for Winter Weather: Tips to help get you started on weatherizing your home to prevent excessive heating bills.
Let’s get started…
7 Top Pet Scams That Cost Money
and Even Animal Lives
We love our furry or feathered friends, but human affection for
animals is increasingly an open-arms invitation for pet scams.
Animal lovers are easy prey for crooks. Our love, especially
for four-legged pals, can be so intense that we fail to spot
the scam when it’s pulled.
This week we’ve compiled a list of the 7 most common pet scams
currently doing the rounds. If you’re an animal fan, you may
save yourself a lot of heartache, not to mention hard-earned
dollars, by getting wise to these con tricks.
1. The non-existent animal in distress
This is by far the most common pet scam. The con artists are
after your money or personal financial information and they use
your sympathy for animals in distress to hook you.
The tricks take many forms and, yes you guessed it, many of
them originate in certain African nations and in the Far East,
Some are fairly sophisticated, with websites bursting with
photos of beautiful animals that have simply been filched from
other Internet sites.
But, typically, you might see an ad offering a loved pet free
of charge because the owners can no longer keep it. The
scammers may claim to be missionaries or just to have fallen on
All they want you to do supposedly is to pay the shipping
costs. But as soon as you agree and pay, you may get a
follow-up message saying the animal has been impounded by
customs or is in need of veterinary treatment. And, of course,
the “seller” asks you to pay.
A particularly nasty variation of this type of pet scam is the
lost animal con trick. Your beloved pet goes astray and you
post notices around the neighborhood. The scammer spots these
and calls to say he’s found the animal.
Problem is, he’s a truck driver and claims he was on urgent
business so he had to take your animal with him. Now he’s ready
to return it… if you’ll just send the freight fee. Read more
about this type of pet scam in our article Avoiding Pet Scams.
The giveaways with this particular pet scam are usually that
the animal is some distance away, probably overseas, and the
trickster wants you to pay with a money order or wired cash.
2. Animal refuge donations
Most organizations that offer shelter and support for abandoned
animals are usually pretty near broke. They rely on pet food
and financial donations and volunteer workers to keep them
Every day our newspapers have stories about them and the uphill
battle they have to provide a temporary home for strays or
This makes them fertile ground for public sympathy and
therefore pet scams. It’s easy to forge an identity card and
simply go door-to-door with a collection box, or to get the
local convenience store to place a donation jar by the
This is sad because not only are the crooks after your money
but also it makes people distrustful of genuine, desperately
needed collections. You could question the collector to test
his/her knowledge but the best solution is to send money
directly to the pet organization.
Read more about fakes, including phony donation boxes, on our site.
3. The 24-hour adopters
Of course, most refuge centers also want to find adopters for
their animals. Plus, there are genuine cases where individual
pet owners need to find a new owner, perhaps because they’re
moving to a place that doesn’t allow pets or because they just
can’t afford to keep their pets anymore.
Well, on the other side of the fence, a sneaky pet scam will
relieve you of your beloved animal — if it’s a pure breed or
The scammers scour adoption ads and animal shelter registers
looking for pets they know are in demand. They collect the
animal, either for free or for a small fee, then immediately
offer it for resale at a fat profit.
Of course, what they’re doing may not be illegal but they’ll
often dress up their stories to potential buyers by claiming
they’ve owned the animal for years and that it’s healthy and
has had all its shots — when they may not know this at all.
A few searching questions will establish if your adopter is a
genuine animal lover and the real owner of the pet. And if
you’re a buyer and the seller claims to have owned the animal
for some years, ask them for some tales of their experiences
with it. They probably won’t be able to think fast enough. And
you can also ask to talk to their vet to find out more info
about the pet.
4. Not what the label says
At some time, most of us have probably bought an item only to
discover it’s not quite what we thought it was. Great idea for
a pet scam!
Pedigree animals and certain other breeds can attract price
tags of a thousand dollars or more, or are heavily in demand
for other reasons. The scammers know this and, if you’re
unwary, they’ll try to palm you off with a fake.
Two recent examples we’ve encountered were a pet scam in which
the tricksters claimed to be selling a rare breed of cat that
did not cause allergic reactions with normally
allergy-sensitive owners, and a con where unsuspecting people
bought supposedly rare parakeets.
The cats turned out to be of the 57-variety breed and the
“rare” birds were part of a flock of escaped pets that lived in
Even documentation that is supposed to prove the credentials of
a pedigree animal is easily forged. The only way to avoid this
pet scam is to make sure you buy from a reputable dealer or
5. Looking for a pet sitter?
People with time on their hands, affection for animals and,
usually, the need for some extra cash, love to look after other
Even so, there’s usually a shortage of available animals, so
they may have to check the help wanted or personal ads online
or in the local paper. But, if you’re one of them, beware this
variation of the overpayment pet scam.
You reply to an ad and the “owner” tells you he’s abroad or
working for an embassy and will arrange for his pet to be
delivered to you. He sends you a dud check as advance payment
or to buy supplies and asks you to refund part of the cost via
a moneygram to a shipping service.
Ouch! Always check-the-check with the issuing bank and never
send refunds. Read more on overpayment scams on our site.
On the other hand, people seeking pet sitters should be equally
wary because of the risk of inviting a scammer into their home
– and often giving them access when the owner is not likely to
The risk here is that, first, the “pet sitter” may know nothing
about pet care. Second, they may steal items from your home.
Third, they may even pick up enough information to be able to
steal your identity. Make sure you seek verifiable references
6. Exotic creatures — but untouchable
There’s a huge, multi-million dollar trade in unusual pets
from tarantulas to alligators. Some of these animals can be
legally bought and sold, but over 30,000 species either cannot
be sold or are subject to ownership restrictions.
But that doesn’t stop people from trying. For example, the
illegal trade in capuchin monkeys from the Indian sub-continent
has no shortage of buyers. And we all know of cases where
animal rescue specialists discover creatures like pumas and
bears being kept as “pets.”
First, this is usually extremely distressing for the animal and
may be contributing to its potential ill health, death or even
extinction. Second, you may be putting yourself at risk by
keeping animals that could be dangerous or may need special
diets or other treatment.
Every area has different regulations about animal trading and
ownership and, if you are in any doubt, check with your state’s
veterinary board. And if you want to know more about the exotic
animal trade, visit the website of the wildlife trade
monitoring network, Traffic.org.
7. The trade in stolen pets
Long before the days of cattle rustling, stealing other
people’s animals was big business. And many people feel that
taking someone’s pet is a particularly nasty variation of this
crime. Unfortunately, it’s a pet scam that’s on the increase.
Every year, tens of thousands of animals, usually dogs but also
some breeds of cats, are taken from their owners’ cars or
property, never to be seen again.
Where do they go? It’s bad enough that a proportion of these
animals are stolen to order or to meet demand for rare breeds
at high prices. But even worse is that the majority — let’s say
the less financially valuable breeds — are sold in groups to
animal research laboratories.
Think the labs wouldn’t deal in this way? Well, some of them
are easily fooled by phony paperwork. And of course, there are
some that are as unscrupulous as the thieves.
You owe it to your pet to protect them at all times. Be
careful, especially when you lock your pet in a car (with
adequate ventilation, of course).
Above all, with all of the pet scams we’ve outlined in this
week’s article, a strong dose of common sense and healthy
skepticism is the best way to sidestep the con artists. And
remember that ultimately our pets and other animals are
counting on us to look out for them. So let’s do that!
Time to conclude for today — have a great week.