The Ripoff Alert is a new series appearing once each week on Fridays. It alerts you to the latest scams and ripoffs trying to get between you and your money, and gives you information you need to stay safe.
Pet Adoption Scams
Pets are considered by many to be part of the family. In fact, many people treat their pets like they would a child. The emotional connections we’ve developed with our pets enrich our lives and provide many benefits. But they also make us vulnerable to a number of pet adoption scams when it’s time to look for a new pet or give up one you already own.
Most pet scams fall into one of three categories: the Nigerian pet scam, over-payment and sales that involve sick or dying animals. I’ll talk about each one individually and how you can protect yourself.
The Nigerian pet scam
When looking to buy a pet, many people go online to places like Craigslist or search engines. Scamsters, usually operating overseas, post ads with detailed descriptions and even pictures of common breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers and bulldogs. They tell you a story about why the pet is free or discounted – they’re doing missionary work in Nigeria or some other African country, they don’t have time to care for the pet anymore, the animal was rescued from a natural disaster, yada yada yada.
When you contact the seller (scamster) for more information, he’ll answer your emails and phone calls. He’ll send you all the pictures you ask for. Some set up legitimate-looking breeding websites claiming to have AKC (American Kennel Club) certification. After all your questions are answered, the seller tells you to wire the shipping fees (usually from $150-$500), vaccination costs and various other fees. Wanting to get your new pet as soon as possible, you’ll go down to Western Union and wire the funds to the seller. They’ll then make up reasons for delays and try to get you to send more money. Once you’ve figured out their scheme, that’s the last you hear from the seller or your money.
There is no pet, the pictures are taken from the internet and the seller is not a missionary. Avoid falling in love with a pet from just a picture. You need to see and interact with it in person before making any decisions.
This occurs when you’ve posted an ad offering your pet for sale and are contacted by an interested buyer. The price is negotiated, terms are agreed on, and the buyer sends you a check for more than the agreed-upon amount. You’re then instructed to deposit the check and wire a portion back to the buyer or a third party. Not knowing the check is fraudulent, you obey and it clears. A few weeks later it bounces back, but by that point you’ve already wired a portion to the scamster. Always be suspicious if you receive payment in excess of the correct amount. And absolutely don’t send your pet because you won’t see it again.
Sick or Dying Animals
This scam occurs at pet stores and in-person with private sellers. As you’re interacting with your potential new pet, you might notice the animal behaving a little strangely, but you don’t think much of it. So you pay the adoption fees and you’re on the way home with your new pet. A few days later after a visit to the vet, you find out it has worms, rabies, or some other serious medical condition which the seller failed to mention. Now, who’s going to take an animal back to the seller after days or weeks of bonding with it?
Instead, take some time to get in touch with the breeder’s past customers, as well as veterinary references to see if the animal has been examined. Research the breed to see if it’s a good fit for your home and lifestyle.
A variation of this scam occurs after you’ve contacted an online seller who sends you pictures of a pet you’re interested in. After you’ve agreed and sent the money, the animal in the picture ends up not being the one you actually receive. The pictures could be of anyone’s pet – just because they have pictures doesn’t mean they have the pet.
The #1 thing you can do to protect yourself from pet adoption scams is never buy a pet on the internet. It’s fine to use the internet to find a local breeder, but always visit the animal in person. Insist on spending time with the parent animals and see where they’re kept. Watch for signs of timidness or sickness. Remember, the animal will be part of your family for 10 or even 20 years, so it’s important to take the proper precautions when selecting one. Finally, if the seller focuses mostly on getting paid you know there’s something fishy going on.