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?
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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, especially Thailand.
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 hard times.
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. Don't!
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 going.
Every day our newspapers have stories about them and the uphill battle they have to provide a temporary home for strays or neglected pets.
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 register.
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 particularly attractive.
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 a park!
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 animal shelter.
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 people's pets.
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 be around.
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 first.
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.