Pet Scams in Full Swing as Christmas Approaches

Shippers issue tips on how to spot pet scams: Internet Scambusters #783

Tens of thousands of animal lovers get caught out by pet scams every year. And, as Christmas approaches, the crooks are upping their game.

But, with the help of a trade group representing pet shippers, we’re going to tell you how to spot these crooks in this week’s issue.

We’ll also tell you how you can secure your home Wi-Fi router after a new scare about its potential vulnerability.

Let’s get started…


Pet Scams in Full Swing as Christmas Approaches


With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time for a strong seasonal warning about pet scams.

Let’s catch up with the many tricks crooks are using to fool people into paying for a puppy or other pet that either doesn’t arrive or is not what the buyers thought they would be getting.

Pet scams are big business, earning millions of dollars for con artists based in the United States, Canada, and Africa — mainly in the central African nation of Cameroon for some reason. Even Cameroonians living in the U.S. have recently been implicated in these crimes.

The most popular breed names used in these tricks are French bulldogs, Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians.

Every year, tens of thousands of Americans file complaints about being hit by a pet scam.

Many of them involve charging victims for shipping costs for non-existent pets either within the country or overseas. Oftentimes, the crooks also add in costs for supposed additional services such as medical checks, vaccinations, and micro-chipping.

Traditionally, Christmas sees a surge in pet purchases and now the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), which represents animal shippers in 80 countries, has added its voice to the warnings about scams.

The Association pinpoints many tricks scammers currently use to fool their victims, including:

  • They claim the pet is being sold or given away because of family issues, such as illness or death.
  • They fake affection for the pet by calling it Baby or another endearing name like Sunshine or Bobby, adding that they are seeking a “loving home” for their precious pet.
  • They tell you the pet will be delivered by a courier service that they never identify.
  • They claim affiliation to IPATA or that they use them to do the shipping. They often use the IPATA logo or name. In fact, the Association does not transport animals at all — only its members do that.
  • They use the name of a genuine shipper and may even refer to the firm’s website.
  • They pretend the pet is in a nearby location but that they (the seller) are many miles away, often abroad. Then they invent a reason why you can’t actually “see before you buy.”
  • They invent an international shipping charge that is way below what true global transportation costs. They’ll commonly charge $250 to $300, which is only a fraction of what a real international pet shipment would cost.
  • They try to rush you into taking action and paying by claiming the animal must be shipped by next day.
  • They ask victims to wire payment but because they know there’s a risk the money-wiring agent will express concern that it’s a scam, they tell victims to tell the agent they’re sending the money to a family member.
  • They usually don’t provide a telephone number for contact. All communication is by email. IPATA says that if they do provide a number and it has a 237 code then it’s also a scam.
  • Once they get the money, they use all types of excuses to explain a delay, while they ask for more cash to cover unexpected payments like a special crate, extra feeding, and so on.

If you are thinking of buying a pet, IPATA recommends that you conduct an online search for the email address of the advertiser, especially on free sites. Multiple ads that use the same email address, especially if it’s a generic one like Gmail, suggest it’s a scam.

Tell the seller that you want to pick up the pet yourself and will even fly to collect. A scammer will quickly disappear or make dubious excuses why this can’t be done.

You can also ask for the name and contact information of the shipper, saying you want to speak to them.

And if they claim they’re IPATA members, check them out here.

If it’s too late and you realize you’ve already been conned out of your pet purchase money, break off contact with the scammer. Don’t send any more money. Contact the wiring agency to see if there’s any way of stopping or recovering your payment.

File a report with law enforcement at the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

And if you were scammed through an advertisement, online or in a publication, let the publisher know. At least you may be able to protect others from falling into the same trap. Sadly, as many as 80% of online ads offering pets for sale are thought to be fake.

You can also report it by email to IPATA at petscams@ipata.org

And don’t think it’s only dog owners who get scammed. The crooks offer all types of animals, from cute Persian cats to cockatoos, in their phony ads.

One common feature in both the ads and the emails or text messages that follow is often poor use of English language. This is a big red flag.

If you really want to avoid being scammed, there’s one simple solution: Only buy a pet you can see and check personally. That includes checking out ownership credentials. Remember, a picture is not a pet. See the real thing.

Alert of the Week

You might have seen recent reports about a newly-identified risk (nicknamed KRACK), which enables crooks to bypass security on home Wi-Fi routers (the device that attaches to your modem to distribute Wi-Fi around your home).

The alert relates to the most common security setup in a router, known as WPA2.

You don’t have to be a techie to slam the door on KRACK. Here’s a useful guide on how to do it.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!