Pet Scams

If you’ve never run across online pet scams you might not even believe how widespread and damaging they are.

A purebred dog can cost a lot of money. 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, pet 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 doing their due diligence questions. Like asking 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 gain your trust and you agreed on a price, they will demand an unusual payment method. It may be 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 Pet Scams Located?

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

After you send 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, they may tell you that the fictional pet is stuck at the airport. They know how to take advantage of your kind heart and your sense of urgency. 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 disappear. There was never a real puppy in the first place. Or a real horse, a real llama, a real tortoise, or a real rare bird.

Here 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 there are any outstanding complaints about them
  • Do an online search for the photos or videos of the animals that are for sale, since scammers regularly copy images from other websites
  • Never agree to pay by any payment method that is unusual or hard to trace, since reputable breeders will never demand such a thing
  • Ask to meet the dealer face-to-face first and request an opportunity to inspect the animal before agreeing to purchase it