5 Common signs of a Pet Scam

Pet scams are quite prolific on the internet – just ask anyone in the pet industry and chances are they are aware of some or even had clients involved.  I’ve had clients reports scam for puppies, kittens and even parrots. My thanks to Maplecroft Studio for doing photography of my litter of Ragdolls:

RAgdoll kittens

Ragdoll kittens, credit to Maplecroft Studios


Pet scams ramp up during the holidays, but these people scam all year long.  Here’s the most common things to watch for.

  1. The advertisement on Craig’s list reads something like “Family can’t keep this adorable bulldog puppy, and is willing to give it away free if you’ll just pay the $200 shipping charge”…. first of all, if it’s a purebred dog it could be sold, especially if someone needs money.  Secondly, most of the domestic airlines run about $250-300 now for a puppy shipped as cargo.  And someone also has to pay for the vet exam for a health certificate, as well as buy the shipping kennel.
  2. Payment by Western Union or Money-gram.  Once you hand over the money and the wire goes, it’s gone for good.  No way to track who picks up the funds, and no way to get it back.
  3. So now you sent the money, you got an email with lots of colors and fonts that confirms the shipment.  If you read through all this, some of it sounds so official.  And in some of the fine print you might find a number from outside the USA, indicated by a + sign and a 2 or 3 digit country code, with a number that has more digits than telephone numbers here in the USA.
  4. You get an email stating the shipment has been held up  because of….”customs” – there is none in the domestic United States, only if a dog comes in from overseas, and even then there are not customs fees, just customs clearances (though airline desks usually have a fee)….or a “special fan/bed/food is required or the airline won’t ship the puppy” (totally false)….  or “special paperwork is needed that wasn’t supplied” (also false, it’s all required at the time of shipment). Scammers some up with all kinds of special unforeseen circumstances
  5. THEN THEY ASK FOR MORE MONEY to pay for the item #4.  They think once they have got you hooked you’ll fork over more dough.  And in many cases they would be right.


Once they start asking for more money you can be positive it’s a scam.  DON’T send them any more money!!  A real breeder will give you one price to pay upfront, and not come back for any further funds.

Switch 441

Actually I can usually recognize a scam just by looking at the first email.  They play on emotions, often with terribly sad stories, because they “just want the puppy to have good home”.  Except they don’t question much about you like a shelter would when looking to place a puppy in a good home, they are more worried about money.  Once you’ve sent the money, it’s gone.  And they will try to get more out of you.

The ads and/or emails often use lots of official looking logos, which they often lift off legitimate  business websites.  Airborne Animals LLC has had scammer use their name, or something similar, their logo, even full copied pages from the Airborne Animal website. And have copied photo’s and even used Sally Smith’s image.

Visit Airborne Animals post about scammers for more information.

So is there ANYTHING you can do?  Yes, report them to IPATA the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, and to the FBI internet crime complaint center . This is internet fraud.  Unfortunately, as fast as sites are taken down and shut off, a new website goes up and new ads circulate.  Scroll down the IPATA page to look at examples of a real email and a real advertisement posted so you familiarize yourself.

Most of these scams originate in Africa, from people who find a way to become wealthy preying on others.  And while some are caught and sent to trial, most get away with it.  International internet fraud is hard to stop. They also like places like Craig’s list, where they can post the “free pet ” listing free of charge.

Another good website is Report Scam . You can read all kinds of scams that have been reported.

There are plenty of legitimate breeders and websites selling puppies, kittens, birds and all other kinds of pets.  I even bought one of my own border collie’s this way.  But due diligence is required: check out the facts, find a breeder with their own website or Facebook page, check references, and validate it is a real person with a real puppy.

And if they want money wired by Western Union, think twice.