Online Pet Scams

Here’s one scam that — if you’ve never run across it — you might not even believe how widespread and damaging it is.

A purebred dog can cost hundreds of dollars. Thousands even. So can cats, not to mention more exotic pets like horses, llamas, tortoises, and rare birds. While dogs remain the subject of the most widespread of online pet scams, all follow the same story line.  And if you have fallen victim to one, you know just how much money and emotional toil it cost you.

Typically, the scammers operate a website, often tied into ads on Facebook, Craigslist or Instagram. Their ads offer purebred puppies at prices significantly lower than reputable breeders. In some cases, they even offer the pet for “free” as long as you pay for shipping, vaccination, and other medical and registration fees.

If you respond to an ad, they will often attempt to sound above board by asking you important due diligence questions about the size of your house and yard, the number of children in your family, how often the dog will be left alone, and so forth.

Once they’ve gained your trust and you’ve agreed on a price, they will demand an unusual payment method, such as gift cards, prepaid debit cards, bank wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. What all these methods have in common is that they are difficult or impossible to trace and recover. That’s no surprise, since criminals like to avoid getting caught or losing their loot.  But the untraceable payment has the added benefit of camouflaging their location.

Where are they located?

Online pet scammers normally pretend to be located in the same country as you,  but far enough away to make it impossible to meet face-to-face.  Or at least close enough not to make the shipping of a puppy seem like a bizarre idea.  But in all likelihood your scammer is based overseas. These scams are usually run by criminal gangs in Eastern Europe or East Africa. Ukraine and Cameroon are popular bases, as well as Russia, Bulgaria, and Nigeria.

Once you’ve sent the money, the scammers may disappear right away. If not, they may try to squeeze some more money out of you with “unexpected” fees. For example, the fictional pet may be stuck at the airport. They’ll take advantage of your kind heart and your sense of urgency. For example, they might make you fear that the puppy is suffering and may die if you don’t pay the extra fees right away. At any rate, sooner or later you either catch on to the scam or the scammers feel they’ve gotten all they can out of you, and they disappear. There was never a real puppy in the first place. Or a real horse. Or a real llama. Or a real tortoise. Or a real rare bird.

There are a few simple steps you can take to avoid falling for a pet scam:

  • Demand to see their license from your country’s relevant breeding association, and then double-check with that organization that it’s correct, including the address, phone number, and email
  • Do an online search for the seller’s email address to see if anyone else has complained about them
  • Do an online search for the photos or videos of the animals being sold, since images are often stolen from other websites
  • Never agree to pay by any payment method that is unusual or hard to trace. No reputable breeder will ever demand such a thing.
  • If at all possible, demand a face-to-face meeting rather than having your pet shipped to you sight-unseen