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With the pet industry growing more and more each year, scam artists are finding new methods of making money. Unfortunately, many of their methods are at the expense of good-hearted, pet-loving individuals. As with many other scams, the heartstrings are usually the first to be pulled. When you are shopping for a new addition to your family, the best advice that I can give is to go in using more of your head than your heart. I know that’s easier said than done, especially when shopping for a pet, but trust me, you will be thankful when you are at home with your new four-legged companion.
There are sources you can use to find the legitimacy of a company. Fraudwatchers.org publishes pet related scams regularly. Other useful online sources, which you can find on our site under Resources, are IATA (International Air Transport Association) and IPATA (Independent Pet and Animal Transportation Association International). IATA is an international trade organization that represents the majority of scheduled international airlines. IPATA is an organization of professional pet shippers who arrange the transport of pets globally.
Scammers may claim to be members of these two organizations. In an effort to prevent fraudulent activities, these organizations provide directories for businesses that are verified members. The businesses listed in these directories will comply with the Animal Welfare Act and will meet standards required when shipping animals.
Businesses using or handling animals, directly or indirectly, must register with the USDA. This US Federal law regulates the treatment of animals used in research, exhibition, transport and commercial. A level of care and treatment is required for animals. You should request to know the USDA registration number for any business providing pet services that fall into one of the four categories mentioned above. Then, check the number on the USDA website to verify that it is associated with that business.
The most important point to make, though, is to check and verify names, registration numbers and memberships for these types of businesses. There is more at stake than money, in most cases. Many people who fall prey to scams became emotional involved in the process. Therefore, the unfortunate loss feels tenfold.
Airlines that allow animals to board their aircrafts will require a certain standard of transport kennel. However, it is important to know that no transport kennel is “airline-approved” or endorsed by any airline. When shopping for a transport kennel, look for a sturdy, well-ventilated, secure kennel. You can find more information about what is required on the websites of the airlines you will use for your pet.
What to Watch Out For
- Anyone wanting reward money upfront for a lost pet.
- Anyone claiming they need money wired to them for reward money, vet services rendered because of injury to pet, pet food, supplies, etc.
- The bait-and-switch method – when someone claims to have found your pet, but after exchaning descriptions says it is not yours. Then, another person contacts you with a more detailed description and requests reward money in advance.
- Your pet is stolen (or lost), and someone contacts you, using the information on your lost pet ad, describing your pet perfectly. However, they stole your pet knowing you would offer reward money.
- Someone responds to your “found pet” ad, and then that person sales it for money to another person or research facility.
- The overpayment scam – when an animal owner post an online ad offering a pet for sale, and the scam artist negotiates a price and sends payment in the form of a cashier’s check. The cashier’s check is for a larger amount, and the scam artist ask that the animal owner return the overpayment through a wire transfer. The cashier’s check is counterfeit and loses the funds for the sale of the pet, as well as any bank fees. If the pet was already sent, they will NOT get it back.
- Nigerian pet scam – these are usually through online classified ads and fake breeder websites. A person will claim they have a free purebred that needs a home, but it will require money to ship and cover any other miscellaneous fees. The unknowing victim wires money and never sees the pet.
How do you avoid these types of scams? First, always make sure your pet has an up-to-date ID tag with your contact information. Microchipping your pet is another helpful method in locating your pet if lost or stolen.
When your pet is left unattended, make sure they are secure inside your home or yard. And… in the unfortuante case your pet is lost, only include the essential information on a “lost pet” ad.
It is in your best interest to take a phone number from anyone claiming to have found your pet, so you may call them back. Also, have the person who claims to have found your pet ask the questions. Do not get caught up giving them too much information. If they have your pet, then they should be able to describe the characteristics and any markings of your pet in detail.
If someone is coming to pick up a pet you found, have them bring documentation (ownership/breeding papers, vet records, photos) to prove that the pet is actually their pet.
If you want to purchase a puppy, try to find a local breeder. It is best to physically visit the puppy and see the living conditions prior to offering funds. Reputable breeders will require a personal meeting because they want to ensure the puppy is going to a good home.
If you ever suspect a scam, report it! Contact you local authorities, as well as Consumer Fraud Reporting.