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If your pet has tragically gone missing, it can be difficult to think about much of anything beyond finding and reuniting with them. And understandably so! But having your attention elsewhere can make you vulnerable to pet scammers.
What exactly is a pet scammer? In the context of losing a pet, they’re a person looking to exploit the pet’s owner by extracting money from them in their time of need. While most people who contact you over the course of your search are just animal lovers who want to help, it’s important to stay vigilant against the few pet scammers out there looking to take advantage of your love for your pet.
Protect yourself by being aware of the warning signs of a scam, never provide cash rewards, don’t send electronic payments until after you and your pet have been reunited, and always meet in a safe, public place.
What Are the Warning Signs for a Lost Pet Scam?
When you’re going through the process of finding your lost pet, you’re likely to receive messages and/or phone calls from any number of leads. But how do you distinguish between the legitimate leads and the scams?
There are a few tell-tale signs to keep an eye out for. One of the big ones is that a scammer will almost certainly ask you to pay them before reuniting you with your pet.
They’ll say they have a totally good reason, of course. They’re a truck driver, and driving so far out of the way to help you will cost them money they don’t have.
Or they’ll tug at your heartstrings. Tell you that your pet was hit by a car that requires immediate vet care, so you’d better pay them ASAP or else.
If you tell them you’ll pay for any expenses incurred after being reunited with your pet, the scammer in question will likely come up with some excuse as to why that’s impossible.
Which brings us to another tell-tale sign: scammers will often do whatever they can to avoid meeting you. Most likely, they don’t have your pet at all — they just have the information about them that you’ve broadcasted to the world via flyers and social media posts.
Is the person claiming to have your pet refusing to provide new pictures of them? They’re probably a scammer.
Are they incapable of describing anything unique about your pet outside of the details depicted in pictures you’ve made available? Probably a scammer.
Are they asking you to give them a verification code to prove you’re the owner of the lost pet? DEFINITELY a scammer who’s definitely just trying to get into your email.
And as a general rule, if you’re planning to post about your lost pet on Craigslist, be careful about who you’re dealing with.
To be clear, there are many possible scams out there, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But no matter the scam, there are things you can do to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.
Tips for Avoiding Lost Pet Scams
Ask for Identifying Info/Photos Before Meeting
If you’re communicating with someone who claims to have your pet, ask for identifying details and photos before meeting them in person. But don’t give away any key information. Rather, let the person in question bring it up on their own. Or if the mark might be easy to miss, instead of saying, “Does my dog/cat/whatever have a scar on their stomach?”, ask the person to tell you precisely where the scar is located. Just make sure the identifying mark wasn’t in a flyer or anything.
Meet in a Public Place
Make sure to pick a place to meet that’s abundantly safe. Obviously, meeting in a public space is a good idea, but meeting at a police station or similar (vet’s office, dog shelter, etc.) where you’ll be surrounded by people who want to help you is even better.
Do Not Provide Cash Rewards
As scary as this might sound, it’s important to know regardless: providing cash rewards is a recipe for having your money stolen from you. It’s possible a pet scammer might threaten you when you meet, forcibly take your money, and so on. The best way to avoid this is to remove it from the equation altogether. Don’t provide cash rewards, period. Don’t have money on you when you meet the person claiming to have your pet. It’s just not wise.
Electronic Money Transfers Are Great…But Only After Your Pet Has Been Returned
Electronic money transfers are a great, safe way to reward someone who’s found your pet! Just make sure not to do it until after your pet is back in your possession. If you’ve lost a dog and live in the New York (including Long Island and New Jersey), Los Angeles, and Texas areas, try using the Shadow app. Shadow provides you with a temporary phone number and a safe, easy way to transfer electronic rewards.
Make Sure to Vet Any Paid Lost Pet Services
If you’re interested in utilizing a lost pet service that requires payment, ask trusted local rescues and organizations for recommendations and check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure they’re legitimate.
What to Do If You’ve Been Scammed
If you believe that someone is definitely trying to scam you — or worse, that someone has stolen your pet — your only course of action may be to file a police report. Contact your local police department to learn how best to proceed.
Need More Help?
We know how difficult losing a pet can be. Since Shadow was founded, we’ve helped thousands of families through the experience. We’ve also covered the topic extensively on our blog. If you’re someone who needs help finding their lost pet, or has found someone else’s lost pet, or want tips for how to prevent losing your pet, or if you’re just looking to help lost pets generally, we’ve got you covered.
And if you need additional help, don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-400-4001.