Fraud.org has reported a 79% increase in general COVID-19 related fraud complaints between March-April of 2020. Of all the COVID-19 related fraud complaints, pet adoption fraud has increased as well. Fraud.org reports a 42% increase in pet adoption scams between February-April as compared to the same time last year.
The driving force behind the increase in adoptions is that more people are spending time at home and the idea of bringing a new pet into the home to care for is a wonderful idea! However, scammers also have been busy during this time conducting online scams, targeting good people that are trying to do good deeds and adopt animals that need a home online. How does this scam work? In a typical pet adoption scam, the scammer will create a fake website related to a particular breed of dog or cat, using words to tug on your heartstrings such as “puppy” or “kitten.” The adoption service will be advertised on classifieds websites, social media, phishing emails, or by other means to lure in more potential victims.
The websites tend to have photos of cute animals to entice visitors to reach out to the person who has the animals up for adoption, THE SCAMMER! Consumers who respond to the ads will be instructed to pay fees before the animal can be shipped. These fictitious costs may include shipping fees, vaccinations, quarantine fees, insurance, or even COVID-19 safe shipping crates. Regardless of the excuse given by the “seller” of the fictitious animal, the aim is always the same: get the victim to continue paying and/or providing valuable personal information until they either catch on or run out of money.
What can you do to prevent being the victim of a pet adoption scam?
• Put your search on hold. Avoid shopping for a pet until after the COVID lockdowns have been lifted. If you cannot touch an animal with your own hands, there’s a risk it could be a scam.
• Never pay any fee to obtain an animal that you have not seen with your own eyes (as opposed to via pictures or videos online).
• If anyone asks you to send money overseas, particularly to pet adoption scam hotspots such as Cameroon or India, it is a scam.
• Beware of “free” pet offers online. These are often simply ruses to get you to pay shipping or other fees for non-existent animals. If you are planning to buy a specific breed of animal, make sure you are working with a reputable breeder or rescue organization. The American Kennel Club and the American Humane Society are good places to start when looking for reputable, ethical breeders and rescue groups. There are plenty of pet rescue/adoption groups locally and regionally that would love to hear from you!