Beware of Pet Scams
Adopting a Puppy, Kitten or Another Animal from the Internet? Buyer Beware
Anyone looking for a puppy, kitten, bird, monkey or any other animal from anyone over the internet other than a qualified breeder, animal shelter or Humane Society should consider their options carefully. Before purchasing a pet from someone who solicits you or someone you see advertising on online websites such as Craigslist, youTube or Kijiji consider the following information.
The scams usually work this way: An individual or family is looking for a specific breed or are lured by cute pictures and false promises of typically expensive animals at discount prices. The story by the seller might be that they are only looking for a “good home” for their precious pet, or that “they can no longer afford them”, or that “they are ill and cannot take care of them”, etc. The story is made up and the pictures are taken from social media or other websites of pets that do not belong to them.
The person offering the pet can be in any country. The offer takes several forms but generally offers you a free happy healthy pet that the person is either offering for free (you pay a small amount for shipping) or at a discount. Pictures are sent and introduction emails as well. Your only obligation is to pay the cost of transporting the pet from its current location to you (door to door). Telephone numbers are offered, but there will be no way to contact this person by telephone. (busy, disconnected or no answer)
To add authority to their proposal, they claim to use PetTravel.com for transport, or other shippers or the names of various organizations in the airline industry such as IATA, IPATA, the FAA and others.
You will be sent colorful pet immigration documents with or without moving images of airplanes and pictures of pets in crates, check lists, airline information-all pertinent information that would ordinarily make you believe that a pet is on its way. Often, legitimate sites, such as Pet Travel Agency, Continental Cargo, SAS, IPATA, and other sites have been cut and pasted with false paperwork to further legitimize the appearance of the scam. Even email addresses have been used from legitimate sites and slightly altered to make it seem as if you are in contact with a legitimate source.
You will be asked to wire some money or purchase a cash card for a small amount, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars and sometimes more to pay for your puppy’s transportation. If you send this money, there is no getting it back. Then you will then receive a second notice that your pet is being held by the customs authorities at an origination or layover airport for various reasons such as needing pet insurance (not required ever for traveling pets), special crate (air conditioning is not available on pet crates) or pressure vaccinations (no such thing). You will be asked to urgently forward additional funds to pay the customs officers so that they will release the animal or you will be subject to prosecution. This is all false; these people are the bad guys, not you. DON’T FALL FOR IT! THERE IS NO PET!
How to spot a pet scam
1. Bad grammar – most scammers use translation services and their emails can contain misuse of words or phrases.
2. Less expensive prices for expensive breeds. This is the key to the success of internet pet scams. If the deal is too good to be true, it is very likelyt not a legitimate deal.
3. Unusually inexpensive prices for shipping. Pet shipping is quite expensive for unaccompanied pets, especially when they are traveling internationally. Why would anyone want to assume the cost of that for free?
4. Door to door service – also very expensive because multiple agents are involved. Also, your country’s import requirements may not allow for immediate release. (see more below)
5. Payment method – always sending money by wire or the purchase of a cash card. If the person is asking you to wire money to Cameroon, then immediately cease communications with them. Cameroon is the center of all pet scams and it is extremely unlikely you are dealing with a legitimate person. Know that it is very easy for scammers to disguise their origins, so don’t assume that they are legitimate if they ask you to wire the money to another location.
6. Email address – look carefully at their email address. The most important thing to look at is what comes AFTER the “@” sign. So, if someone is emailing you from [email protected] regarding the shipment of a puppy, it is likely not coming from a legitimate business. A legitimate business email would be [email protected] (note the company name after the “@” sign.)
7. No ability to speak with the person over the telephone is a big red flag. Scammers do not speak with people over the phone.
8. Colorful documentation with pictures and moving graphics and seals. All animals that are transported without an owner must be accompanied with an airway bill. This documentation is not available until the day of flight and does not have pictures on it or lots of colors and animation.
What you can do to prevent being scammed
1. If you pay for anything with a credit card, you have recourse to get your money back. If you wire money or give them a cash card number, your money cannot be recovered. Insist on paying by credit card or use services like PayPal where you are protected.
2. Try calling the phone number provided. If it is disconnected, this is obviously a red flag. If there is no answer, try again. If you cannot reach the person, then cease dealing with them.
3. Tell the person you are dealing with that you are going to pick up the puppy (even if you are not) and see how they react. If they give excuses as to why you cannot do that, be very cautious in proceeding.
4. Research the shipping company. If it is legitimate, then contact them to verify that they are dealing with the person that is selling you the pet.
5. Know the procedures involved in the import of your pet to your country. All countries have requirements and all animals entering any country must be custom cleared. This takes a shipping agent to meet the plane and present the appropriate documentation for your pet to enter your country. Insist on knowing who will do this.
Talk to us if you need more information about pet travel.
What to do if you have been scammed
Consumers who suspect they’ve been the victim of a scam like this are urged to contact the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808. They also can contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or report the scam at ic3.gov. You can also report internet pet scams to your local authorities. While you won’t get your money back, you should notify local governments of the fraud.