How to Spot Pet Adoption Scams

  • By David Lukic
  • Mar 03, 2021

 The coronavirus pandemic has prompted a lot of people to adopt pets. Social distancing and quarantine have made us crave the comfort and companionship of a kitten or puppy. However, it has also resulted in a lot of pet adoption scams.

Why Are Pet Adoption Scams So Popular Now?

pet adoption scams
Many statistical research companies and rescue groups have noted a spike of 79% in fraudulent behavior since the pandemic began. One area that has seen a significant increase in fraud is pet adoption scams (42%).

  • Reputable shelters, pet adoption agencies, and breeders have shut down operations due to COVID-19. Therefore, eager pet owners are using other sources like Craigslist and online ads to find a furry friend. It is estimated that pet adoption scam online is roughly 80% of pet ads. Many of these are dog scams on Craigslist
  • Due to isolation and forced working from home, people are desperate to find a pet to keep them company.
  • Because of the current circumstances and unusual ways of doing business right now, potential pet owners may not worry about buying a pet they have not met or seen yet. 
  • Using online sources to adopt a pet may overshadow any red flags that the ad or website is fraudulent.

In 2020, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) noted more than 4,000 pet adoption fraud cases. In April alone, there were more reports of pet fraud than in the previous three months combined. Most of the pet fraud concerns dogs or puppies, the majority are dog adoption scams or dog rescue scams, but 12% does involve cats and kittens. The BBB says Americans have lost about $3 million to pet adoption scams. The average loss per victim is $775.

Some Common Pet Adoption Scams

dog rescue scams
Most pet scammers create fake ads and may even set up a convincing-looking website to go with it. Typically, they will focus on a particular breed of cat or dog to appear legitimate. The URL may have the words “puppy” or “kitten” in it. You may see these ads on ad websites like Craigslist, social media, or you may receive a text or email about an adorable pet that needs a home.

These fraudulent websites are often littered with images of cute pets, but the scammers actually have nothing for sale; they only want your money. After falling in love with one of the pets advertised, as the adopter you will be asked to pay fees for vaccinations, shipping, and insurance before the pet shelter will send the animal to you. Some fraudsters even use the term “COVID-safe shipping crates” to really lure you in, thinking they are being extra safe.
Sometimes the initial price will be affordable, but then after they say they have “shipped” the pet, you may receive additional emails or texts requesting more money for customs or other fees to get the animal to you. You may even receive threats if you refuse to keep paying. One victim complained that she was accused of “pet abuse” for not continuing to pay the long list of fees while never receiving the dog. Probably one of the most absurd form of dog adoption scams.
Pet scammers often do not accept credit cards or debit cards. If this is the case, let that be a warning sign to walk away before you end up a victim.

Ways You Can Stay Safe and Avoid a Pet Adoption Scam

When looking to adopt a new pet, a big red flag is when the seller refuses to let you meet the dog or cat in person before the sale, more often than not, this scenario ends p by pet adoption scam. The BBB recommends the following safety tips:

  • Always demand to meet the pet in person before handing over any personal information or money. If the seller refuses, walk away. It is probably a scam.
  • Use Google to do a reverse image search on the pet’s picture. It is likely a stock picture used to lure you in.
  • Check out fair market prices, and if the advertised price is far less, there may be a big catch.
  • Call your local shelter or rescue organization to see if they have any pets available or recommend any trusted sources. They may also inform you of any known dog adoption scams.
  • Instead of focusing on a specific breed, be willing to fall in love with a mutt. Local shelters often have too many pets for homes in the area. You are likely to find a great companion that way.
  • Do not do business with a pet owner who says they are “out of town” or overseas. You are asking for trouble if they have to ship the pet. Unless you can drive to pick it up, pass on those offers.
  • Never wire money for a pet purchase. If someone asks you to pay with gift cards, Western Union, or Bitcoin, these are very strong indications that it’s a fraudulent transaction and you will never receive the pet or see your money again. 
  • Do a lot of research when finding the perfect pet. Check out reviews and talk to friends and family to find reputable sources. Do not be lured in by cute pictures of cats and dogs.
  • Before doing business with the seller, check their references. If they refuse to supply any, walk away. Better safe than sorry. 
  • Never trust an offer that says “free.” Some scammers offer up a pet free to a good home, then start asking for fee after fee for little things before the actual transfer takes place. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If someone is shipping the animal, check out the shipping company and very their credentials. You can always consult the BBB to see if a company has any complaints or is legitimate. 
  • If you do need a purebred pet, only work with reputable breeders in your area. Animal shelters can provide you with the names of good breeders.
  • Consider waiting to adopt until COVID-19 is over.

dog adoption scam

How do I Report a Pet Adoption Service as a Scam?

If a fake pet adoption agency has scammed you and you are a victim of pet adoption scam, dog adoption scam, or dog rescue scam,, contact the FTC to report the fraud

You can also contact the BBB or agencies like Fraud.org to report it. 

Contact your local law enforcement and file a police report of any money stolen.

You may also want to consider checking your credit reports and keeping a close eye on any accounts if you provided payment details or other personal information.

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