It’s easy to miss the feel-good headlines in this whirlwind we’re living in. But, if you haven’t heard, animal shelters across the nation are filling up…with empty cages.
Life in quarantine has many people feeling like now is the perfect time to bring a pet into the family. And why not? With so much time at home on our hands, it’s a great opportunity for a lot of people to acclimate and train a new puppy. It might also be the best thing for those who are socially isolating alone. New pets bring excitement, happiness, and exercise—just what most of us are lacking while we’re spending so much time stuck inside.
This has been a godsend for overcrowded animal shelters, and provided adopters know exactly what kind of commitment they’re taking on, it’s fantastic for the animals, too.
But it raises questions about a situation we haven’t yet discussed on this blog: pet adoption scams.
Pet adoption scams haven’t really been at the top of the list as far as the scams we’ve discussed. We typically take a look at the most prevalent scams targeting senior victims. This hasn’t been one of them.
Seniors have always been a vulnerable group in terms of isolation and loneliness. Many seniors have limited social networks, are widows and widowers, and have children living too far to see regularly. This isolation makes them extremely susceptible to scams that weaponize loneliness, like dating scams.
Quarantine makes this situation all the worse. Whatever limited access isolated seniors had to social contact is gone. They can’t visit their local seniors center, they can’t go to church functions, and they can’t see their children and grandchildren. They have to settle for video calls and phone calls, and let’s face it—it’s just not the same sometimes.
Assuredly, many of those choosing to adopt a pet right now are these same seniors. We all have to have someone or something to make us feel like we aren’t alone. And for seniors, it’s even more important. Medical studies have established a link between loneliness and dementia.
With the increased interest in pet adoptions has come a huge uptick in pet adoption scam reports. Victims are being swindled out of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on bogus breeders, rescues, and rehomers for animals that don’t actually exist.
Coronavirus pandemic coincides with spike in online puppy scams
These scammers lift photos of animals off the internet, advertise them as their own, and ask for payment up-front, deposits, and all kinds of additional fees (shipping fees, vaccination and vet visit fees, registry fees, you name it). Then, after they receive as much money as they can, they ghost their victim completely, never to be heard from again.
Victims quickly find out that the contact information they have for the scammer is fake. There is almost no way to know how to get into contact with the seller or even report them for fraud.
To make matters worse, these scammers will almost always request payment via untraceable and nonrefundable means. Without knowing who the scammer really is or where they are, it’s virtually impossible to get your money back.
Luckily, this is an easy scam for any would-be pet parent to avoid. The red flags for an untrustworthy pet seller are huge and blindingly neon. As long as you know these people are out there, you can escape being victimized by following a few nonnegotiable rules:
Don’t buy from out-of-state breeders. This is just a good rule when looking for pets in general. Before buying a pet, you’ll want to see it in person to make sure it’s in good health, has a good temperament, and is coming from a good place. And if you can pick it up in person, it’s better for the animal than being shipped in a crate. It’s always a gamble to buy a pet sight unseen, so stick local when it comes to adopting.
Never pay in cash. This includes using cash transfer services like Western Union and gift cards. Reputable sellers and adoption services accept a variety of payment methods. Only scammers require you to use payment methods that can’t be traced or refunded. This is the BIGGEST red flag there is when it comes to any transaction.
Don’t trust “free” animal advertisements. Free animals are generally frowned upon in the adoption community. It costs a lot of money to feed, clean, doctor, and raise an animal correctly—that’s why breeders and adoption agencies ask for payment. Free animals typically don’t come from the best circumstances. You know that saying about looking gift horses in the mouth? Those free kittens up for grabs on Craigslist are likely malnourished, riddled with parasites, and have respiratory infections that will cost you serious money. Beyond that, scammers often lure victims with promises of a “free” animal only to request a ton of surprise fees for various shipping and insurance costs.
Do your homework. Like anything else, you need to spend some time looking up everything you can on a seller. Search their name, their phone number, their address—anything you can to see what comes up. If what you find doesn’t match what you were expecting, don’t trust the seller. You can also use pet scam reporting sites to see if you can find your seller’s information.
Ask to see the receipts. Have the seller prove the animal exists and is in their possession by providing vet bills, vaccination records, breed certification, or any applicable state or pedigree paperwork you can think of. A reputable seller will have no problem providing any of this. If the seller gives you excuses, walk away.
Reverse image search. If you don’t know how to do this, this is your first line of defense in sussing out a scammer. A lot of scammers steal images off of other websites and social media profiles in order to run their rackets. You can quickly find out if an image is stolen by performing a reverse image search to see if that exact image exists anywhere else on the internet. The most popular way to do this is with Google Image Search, but there are a variety of services that are more comprehensive. Use this technique to see if the photos of your animal are stolen from elsewhere on the internet.