When the non-existent product is supposed to be a living creature, the damage inflicted by pet scams can be both monetary and emotional.
Fake merchandise online is nothing new. So scammers are always seeking new ways to separate victims from their money. Pet scams are one of the results.
Unsurprisingly, dog lovers are the most common victims of online pet scams. After all, dogs have been the most popular pets worldwide for thousands of years. In 2021, to provide just one example, a Milwaukee rapper and his partner were indicted in federal court on eight counts of wire fraud in a case that also involved an unknown individual in Cameroon. They were charged with stealing at least $100,000 from people who paid online for Havanese puppies, a breed that is the national canine of Cuba.
Cats and exotic pets such as tortoises, snakes and rare birds are also frequent objects of similar scams.
An enterprising Australian scammer, for example, once hand-painted ordinary green parrots with a cinnamon hair dye. He then marketed them as Indian ringneck parrots and sold them for AU$14,000 a pair. Believe it or not, there is even a market for ‘mini pigs’ (also known as micro pigs, pocket pigs, teacup pigs, royal dandys, or julianas). They frequently sell for upwards of $4,000! But if you’re scammed, instead of getting a piglet that will weight as little as 80 pounds (36 kilos) at maturity, it’ll turn out to be a regular barnyard hog that can weight up to 1,200 pounds (544 kilos).
The really big money, however, is in horses. Setting aside super-expensive varieties such as thoroughbred racehorses, pet horses bought by families can often cost tens of thousands of pounds, euros or dollars each! That’s not even counting other significant expenses such as transportation, trailers, saddles, and other valuable equipment. It’s just the horse.
How Do Pet Scams Operate?
It all begins with an ad. It can appear on a recognised online marketplace for pets, or specific species or breeds. There are many such websites for horses, dogs, cats, reptiles, and more. Specialty websites for German Shepherds, for example, also exist. Alternatively, an ad can be appear on social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram. Or major online marketplaces such as eBay or Craigslist. Some operators of pet scams even operate their very own websites.
No matter what pipeline they use to attract your eyeballs, what you see will be a photo of the pet you’ve always wanted. However, they usually swipe the photo from a legitimate seller’s real ad. They’ll claim to offer a high-demand expensive breed (of dog, cat, or horse) or species (of reptile, for example) for a ridiculously low price. Sometimes, the animal is even offered for ‘free.’ The ad may also include a sob story such as a recent death or illness in the family. Usually it will also express a desire for the animal to simply have a good, loving home. All you have to do is pay for transportation, and possibly vaccination and a few other ‘minor’ expenses.
What Happens if You Contact the Scammer?
Once you touch bases with the purported sellers, they’ll win you over with questions. Like what kind of environment you’ll be providing the animal. They’re pretending to check you out, to see if you’re a suitable owner. That’s one of their psychological tricks to catch you off guard. In fact, however, there is no puppy. There is no horse. It’s all a scam.
As soon as they have your money, they disappear. They stop answering your calls and emails. It’s over. The only exception to the rule is if they think they can squeeze a bit more money out of you. For example, they may say that customs or officials or government veterinarians impounded the puppy at the airport. And, of course, it’ll starve to death if you don’t pay whatever the fictitious fees are right away.
If you think you can get these criminals to face justice, think again. They safely hide out far away in places like Bulgaria or Nigeria, often operating as part of a powerful criminal gang.
(There are other varieties of pet scams in which the animal does in fact exist. In those cases the scammer misrepresents the health, breed, breeding, or other significant qualities of the animal. For example, buyers of ‘mini pigs’ are often shocked when, within a couple years, their cute little piglet has turned into a 500 pound monster. And of course mutts and barnyard horses get marketed as extremely valuable purebreds.)
What’s the Solution?
To protect yourself from online pet scams, you should observe a few basic precautions:
- Never pay any stranger any money using a payment method that is difficult or impossible to trace or recover, such as bank wire transfers, gift cards, prepaid debit cards, Western Union, and especially cryptocurrency. Instead, insist on paying by credit card or PayPal.
- Demand some sort of incontrovertible proof that the animal exists. A video call on Skype, for example, is something a scammer will always find an excuse to avoid.
- Especially for particularly expensive animals (or even any animal), demand that a veterinarian of your choice examine the animal before you pay. Online, you can easily find vets listed at or near the seller’s location.
- Do a reverse photo search of the animal in question. If it’s a stolen image, you may find the legitimate ad this way.
- Search online for the seller’s email or phone number to check for previous warnings or complaints.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a pet scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.