Fueled by COVID-19, pet adoption scams on the rise 

Why Are Pet Adoption Scams So Popular Now?

Many statistical research companies and rescue groups have noted a spike of 79% in fraudulent behavior since the pandemic began. One area that has seen a significant increase in fraud is pet adoption scams (42%).

  • Reputable shelters, pet adoption agencies, and breeders have shut down operations due to COVID-19. Therefore, eager pet owners are using other sources like Craigslist and online ads to find a furry friend. It is estimated that pet adoption scam online is roughly 80% of pet ads. Many of these are dog scams on Craigslist
  • Due to isolation and forced working from home, people are desperate to find a pet to keep them company.
  • Because of the current circumstances and unusual ways of doing business right now, potential pet owners may not worry about buying a pet they have not met or seen yet. 
  • Using online sources to adopt a pet may overshadow any red flags that the ad or website is fraudulent.

In 2020, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) noted more than 4,000 pet adoption fraud cases. In April alone, there were more reports of pet fraud than in the previous three months combined. Most of the pet fraud concerns dogs or puppies, the majority are dog adoption scams or dog rescue scams, but 12% does involve cats and kittens. The BBB says Americans have lost about $3 million to pet adoption scams. The average loss per victim is $775.


How Can You Tell If A Dog Rescue Group Is Legit


  • Ask how the dog came to the rescue. How the rescue group came to acquire the dog is a question every would-be adopter should ask, Goodwin says. It could be an owner surrender, which happens a lot with breed-specific rescue groups, or it may have been a pet pulled from a shelter.
  • Stick with rescues that have a known reputation. Many animal rescue groups are small grass-roots operations staffed by volunteers. Lots of these organizations were started out of a genuine interest in helping animals and reducing the shelter population.
  • Ask the rescue group about its rehoming policies. While most rescue groups seriously frown upon abandoning a pet, find out what their policies are in case things just don’t work out.
  • Google it. “You can never do too much research on a rescue,” Hunter said. She suggests looking for news stories online and calling local shelters to ask if they’ve ever worked with the group in question.
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    What to do if you are a victim of a pet scam

    • If you have wire transferred money, contact the company that initiated the wire transfer and inform them of the scam. There’s a remote possibility you’ll get your money back if you acted fast enough. Here are the contact numbers for commonly used wire transfers. Here are some helpful phone numbers: Western Union 800-448-1492, MoneyGram 800-926-9400, Green Dot 800-795-7597.
    • Expose scammers anonymously on websites such as SCAMGUARD™ in order to warn the public.
    • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (online or at 877-382-4357)

    Groups taking advantage of increased demand for dog adoptions during COVID-19

    Many people decided to adopt a dog for companionship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers take advantage of this and have been prosecuted for their puppy cyber-scamsexternal icon. They would often charge $600 up front for a dog and then send fake shipping information. They would claim delivery was held up due to the pandemic and ask for additional payments. One person paid $9,100 for a mini-dachshund that never arrived.

    Who are the pet scammers?

    According to the FBI and the FTC, the vast majority of pet scammers are located in Cameroon, Africa which shares a border with Nigeria. In some instances, the FBI has arrested people from Cameroon in the United States as they arrived at various locations to pick up Western Union MoneyGrams as part of the scam. In other cases, the wire-transfers have gone directly to addresses in Cameroon.

    Avoiding Adoption Scams

    In addition to watching out for those red flags, the BBB contends that the single best way to avoid falling victim to adoption scams is to insist on a face-to-face meeting. Stay-at-home orders complicate things slightly, but it’s still possible for pet lovers to demand this level of security. Many shelters across the country are offering drive-through adoption services with no or limited-contact options.

    The Bureau also advises against paying with money orders. Card users aren’t immune to scams, but they’ll have a much easier time disputing fraudulent charges and, ideally, receiving reimbursement. In general, however, pet lovers should avoid providing any form of payment until they’ve seen the animal themselves.

    Ways You Can Stay Safe and Avoid a Pet Adoption Scam

    When looking to adopt a new pet, a big red flag is when the seller refuses to let you meet the dog or cat in person before the sale, more often than not, this scenario ends p by pet adoption scam. The BBB recommends the following safety tips:

    • Always demand to meet the pet in person before handing over any personal information or money. If the seller refuses, walk away. It is probably a scam.
    • Use Google to do a reverse image search on the pet’s picture. It is likely a stock picture used to lure you in.
    • Check out fair market prices, and if the advertised price is far less, there may be a big catch.
    • Call your local shelter or rescue organization to see if they have any pets available or recommend any trusted sources. They may also inform you of any known dog adoption scams.
    • Instead of focusing on a specific breed, be willing to fall in love with a mutt. Local shelters often have too many pets for homes in the area. You are likely to find a great companion that way.
    • Do not do business with a pet owner who says they are “out of town” or overseas. You are asking for trouble if they have to ship the pet. Unless you can drive to pick it up, pass on those offers.
    • Never wire money for a pet purchase. If someone asks you to pay with gift cards, Western Union, or Bitcoin, these are very strong indications that it’s a fraudulent transaction and you will never receive the pet or see your money again. 
    • Do a lot of research when finding the perfect pet. Check out reviews and talk to friends and family to find reputable sources. Do not be lured in by cute pictures of cats and dogs.
    • Before doing business with the seller, check their references. If they refuse to supply any, walk away. Better safe than sorry. 
    • Never trust an offer that says “free.” Some scammers offer up a pet free to a good home, then start asking for fee after fee for little things before the actual transfer takes place. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    • If someone is shipping the animal, check out the shipping company and very their credentials. You can always consult the BBB to see if a company has any complaints or is legitimate. 
    • If you do need a purebred pet, only work with reputable breeders in your area. Animal shelters can provide you with the names of good breeders.
    • Consider waiting to adopt until COVID-19 is over.

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