Ripoff Alert #6 – Pet Adoption Edition

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.

Over-payment Scam

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.

Protecting Yourself

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.

16 thoughts on “Ripoff Alert #6 – Pet Adoption Edition

  1. I would definitely find a rescue dog off of the internet (I wouldn’t get anything but) , but there are reputable sites like petfinder.com for that.

    • It’s ok to locate pets or breeders online, but where the scams come in is when you try to buy them on the internet sight unseen. It’s important to always get a sense of where the animal is kept, its personality, and how it might fit in with your family before making any decisions. Getting a rescue animal from a local organization is always a great option.

  2. Wow, I didn’t realize pet adoption scams existed. We got our greyhound through an area rescue group that has a really good reputation. Like the Craigslist warning says, most problems can be avoided by dealing locally.

    • I would stretch Craigslist’s warning to cover all transactions with private sellers. The more you’re able to meet a seller in person, the less you’ll get ripped off. There are just too many criminals out there to be sure you’re dealing with a real, legitimate person.

  3. I am a Nigerian prince’s dog with $2m dollars I’d like you to help me move to the United States….

    “…never buy a pet on the internet.” probably the best advice I’ve read this week.

    Have a great weekend!

  4. We always adopt our pets from legitimate agencies, which makes it easier to avoid something like this and ends up being cheaper for the most part.

    In terms of sick animals, I think most states have something similar to a “lemon law” for animals.

    • I haven’t heard about lemon laws for animals, but they sure would be beneficial for would-be pet owners. Even with the existence of those laws, it’s important to do your research prior to purchasing a pet. Get vet records, contact previous customers of the seller, and spend time with the animal. Taking these precautions helps prevent heartache later if the animal is found to have major health issues.

  5. I hadn’t heard of these scams either, but I would never get a pet online. Instead I prefer to use local rescue organizations. I got my first cat from an animal shelter and my 2nd cat from a kitten rescue organization. When I’m able to get a dog too, I’ll definitely be going the same route. With so many awesome animals needing a home, I couldn’t imagine buying from some breeder, especially with what you hear about unethical breeders.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeremy. It’s very noble of you to get only rescue animals. You’re right – there are thousands of animals in shelters just waiting for a home. Getting a pet from a rescue shelter provides a great service to society.

  6. I just got a dog off of Craigslist. I knew what kind of dog I was looking for, so I searched for that (siberian husky) and then went and picked the dog up in person. I think the previous owners told some tall tales about the dog being well behaved, but other than that we didn’t get scammed.

    • I’m glad your online adoption went well. In your case the risk was limited because you met the seller in person. What you have to watch out for are people who claim to be overseas or who are only interested in getting paid.

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