Watch out: Online pet adoption scams are fur real!

Bringing a new puppy or kitten home is right at the top of many consumers’ wish lists. Unfortunately, scammers know all too well how emotionally connected we can get to the idea of adopting a cuddly ball of fuzz and how to take advantage of that. Since the beginning of 2015, Fraud.org has received a surge of consumer complaints about online pet adoption scams.

First, a consumer searching for a pet sees a desirable animal listed for sale online, often on a classifieds website like Craigslist.org or Oodle.com. Next, the consumer reaches out to the prospective seller and expresses interest in acquiring the animal. After a consumer sends money to the alleged owner to pay for the pet, she is told that additional funds are needed to cover the cost of things like “a ventilated shipping crate,” “insurance,” or other reasons. Regardless of how much money is sent, the alleged seller will find new reasons to ask for additional payment. This continues until the victim, now often out hundreds or thousands of dollars catches on and stops sending money.

In reality, the entire act is a farce. The cute pet pictures that prompted the initial outreach by the consumer are usually simply pulled off the Internet and used to create attractive (but fake) listings. The alleged sellers don’t own any actual pets and are just out to milk victims of all the cash they can.

A Massachusetts woman we’ll call “Sue” (not her real name) recently sent us a complaint that is typical of this scam. Sue writes:

“I was looking to purchase a Yorkshire terrier puppy for my 2 little kids. I found one that I was really interested in. It was a 9-week-old female Yorkie. I emailed ‘the owner’ … The puppy was $500 and he told me that was already included with shipping and everything. He told me to put the $500 on a Reloadit card, which I did, and I gave him that. He sent me an email of a flight ticket, which I now know that it was not real because I called American Airlines and the flight ticket was a fake.

An agency started emailing me stating that I had to send them $970.00 for a ‘crate’ for the puppy to arrive to me safe while on flight due to the weather. I was told it was refundable when my puppy would arrive. I was told to send it by Western Union, which I did. Once that happened … I was asked to send $1,500 now for the pets insurance to get sent to me, which was also supposed to be refunded to me. I sent that money through MoneyGram. I was supposed to receive my puppy on March 7, 2015 in the morning and I never received the puppy.

Then I received another email stating I had to send ANOTHER payment of $760.00 to update her shots before she takes off. It was already sounding a little bit too good to be true to me but that’s when I finally realized that this was a scam.”

Fraud.org has received more than a dozen complaints about these scams so far this year. Consumers can see additional examples of these scams at the ASPCA’s Pet-Related Scams website.

It’s easy to get emotionally attached to the idea of acquiring an adorable new pet. Consumers in the market for a new furry friend, can protect themselves by following these safe pet-buying tips: 

  1. Never send money for a pet purchase unless you have seen the animal in person (as opposed to simply online).
  2. Beware of any seller who says she’s located out-of-town (or worse, overseas). Dealing with local sellers is usually the smart move.
  3. Requests for payment via wire transfer (Western Union or MoneyGram) or prepaid debit card (Green Dot MoneyPak, Reloadit, or similar cards) are often a red flag for potential fraud. Payment sent via these methods is practically the same as sending cash.
  4. Consider adopting from a local shelter instead of a private seller. There’s likely to be a lower cost to obtain the pet, and you’ll be dealing with a reputable non-profit organization.
  5. Do your due diligence on the seller BEFORE sending money. Ask for detailed information on the seller, including full name, phone number and mailing address. Search online for information on the seller. If no information comes up in the search, or you see negative reviews, it could be a scammer instead of a legitimate seller.
  6. Watch out for offers of “free” pets. While it may seem like a good deal, scammers have been known to use these to lure unwary consumers in to paying for “shipping” and other costs for nonexistent pets.

If you’ve been a victim of one of these scams or been approached by someone you suspect of being a scammer, file a complaint at fraud.org so that we can share your information with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.