With nicknames like “man’s best friend” and “fur baby,” it’s clear we really love our dogs, especially here in the U.S. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), nearly 40 percent of Americans, or more than 48 million households, have a canine companion running around. Unfortunately, scammers are always looking for new avenues to exploit, and now they’re taking advantage of dog lovers. Authorities just issued a new warning about a scam that might be too tempting to avoid. Read on to find out what you need to be on the lookout for.
Scammers are always trying to find new ways to trick people—and as schemes evolve over time, authorities do their best to sound the alarm. Back in May, police in Connecticut and North Carolina started warning residents that they had been receiving reports about scammers using a spoofing technique to impersonate police officers on phone calls. Then last month, an Indiana police department issued an alert about an identity deception scam involving consumers receiving packages for orders they never placed. And just this week, police in Fairfax County, Virginia, revealed that scammers have started targeting people through fraudulent parking tickets on their cars.
But while fear is an easy emotion for con artists to exploit, some scammers are now looking to target Americans by pulling on their heartstrings instead.
Social media sites like Facebook are saturated with posts about furry friends that need to find their forever homes—but not everything you see online may be true. The Wentzville Police Department in Missouri recently issued an alert about scammers targeting dog lovers with these types of posts. “We’re noticing a little bit of an uptick, or a trend, in scams with deposits to reserve dogs,” Jacob Schmidt, a public information officer with the Wentzville Police Department, told local NBC-affiliate KSDK on July 25, adding that the department has received a “shocking” three reports in just 10 days.
“We hear the sad stories over and over. People who wanted to give a pet a loving home, and then ended up with nothing,” Debbie Hill, who works with the Humane Society of Missouri, told KSDK.
The Wentzville Police Department said this type of scheme—which is often referred to as a puppy scam—uses Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), puppy scams usually consist of someone posing as a dog seller through fake ads on social media. The “seller” says they require that potential buyers send a refundable deposit to “hold” a particular pup or make a payment for the pet to be shipped to their home.
That immediate request for money is scamming some people out of anywhere from $300 to $1,400 in just a click of a button, according to Schmidt. “They’re forwarding money from Cash App and Venmo, things like that, that are legitimate services, but then they come to find out that they’ve been frauded for them for that deposit,” Schmidt told KSDK.
Some con artists might even be impersonating actual shelters. Police in Petersburg, Virginia, recently warned that scammers were posing as the Petersburg Animal Care and Control through a Facebook page called “Helping the Petersburg Animals,” local NBC-affiliate WWBT reported on Aug. 4. The page shows pets that are not currently available for adoption and solicits deposits for the pets—which is not something the Petersburg shelter actually does.
There are legitimate adoption or seller posts being made on social media, of course, so it’s up to you to figure out what is real and what is fake. Fortunately, experts say there are some telltale signs of scams to be aware of. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), red flags include sellers who prefer to handle communication by email and not by phone, photos of the dog that can be found on multiple websites, sketchy payment requirements, prices that seem too good for a certain breed, and breeders claiming to have “badges,” as the AKC “does not distribute badges to breeders.”
“If you’re going to buy from a breeder, you need to go to that facility, you need to meet the person, you need to see where the animals are raised,” Hill warned. “Work with somebody who’s reputable. If you can’t do that, say no.”