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The Secret Life of Pet Scams

When a furry, four-legged family member goes missing, as pet owners we’re often willing to do almost anything to get our beloved pet back.

While owners of missing pets have long posted “missing pet” flyers around the neighborhood, social media and the internet have expanded the options for trying to locate missing pets. Posting pictures of your animal on missing pet forums, neighborhood websites or apps, Facebook and Twitter, etc. along with your phone number are some of today’s tools that can help bring home your furry friend. Unfortunately, though, these notices may also attract scammers hoping to make some quick cash.

Scammers scour the internet and popular social media sites for potential targets. Once a scammer identifies you as a target, he or she will message you claiming to have the missing animal. Here’s the catch: before the “good Samaritan” can return your pet, he or she asks you to pay for the return. Only after you pay do you find out the person doesn’t actually have the animal. You’re out the money, and you still don’t have your pet back. 

How to avoid being the victim of a pet scam:

  • If someone calls you claiming they found your pet and the number on your caller ID display is unavailable, ask for a call-back number.
  • Ask the person who contacted you to send you a photo of your found pet. A scammer will often make excuses for why he or she can’t send one, such as being away from the house or not having a camera on their phone. While there is a small chance that these excuses are legitimate, this should be a red flag.
  • Leave a couple of your pet’s unique features out of online posts. By holding back on some small details, you can ask about these features to confirm whether or not the person making the claim really has your pet.
  • Avoid prepaying for the return, and don’t wire money or provide account numbers from a prepaid money card.
  • Even if you have offered a reward, make sure you wait until after your pet is safely in your hands before paying the reward.
  • Watch out for violent or suspicious text messages. After a scammer contacts you claiming to have your pet, his or her messages can become threatening—even violent—if he or she senses you are having second thoughts about paying. The scammer may threaten to keep the pet or harm it—or even you. While these are generally empty threats, contact local law enforcement if someone makes a threat.
  • Make sure your pet wears a collar with an identification tag. The collar should be durable and tight enough to not slip off easily.Consider getting your pet a microchip, which is a service offered by veterinarians, and some animal shelters and businesses. The microchip, which is the size of a grain of rice, provides identifying information when someone checks it with a scanner. These identifiers increase the odds that when your pet is found by an honest person they’ll be able to contact you.
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