Hundreds of dogs and cats find new homes under the Christmas tree every year. While some warn against giving animals as presents, PETA verifies that 86% of pets gifted to new owners are still with them – slightly more than individually acquired animals.
PETA also learned that there is no statistical difference between being surprised by a gifted pet or planning ahead to add one to your family. Your best bet is to carefully plan out the decision with your family – ensuring everyone is on board and selects the animal together.
Unfortunately, even the most careful planning can be defeated by a clever scammer who wants to take advantage of the love in your heart to line his pockets. You don’t deserve to have your hard-earned money stolen from you just because you’re trying to grow your family – especially during the holiday season with stretched budgets.
So, if you’re planning on buying a new pet, be on the lookout for these common warning signs of pet scams, and avoid them.
1. Prices Are Too Good To Be True
One of the more apparent signs of a pet scam is when the price is just way too good to be true. That’s the scammer trying to get you excited – suddenly, that pet you’ve been looking for is much more affordable!
But that’s not true because the pet doesn’t exist.
Scammers charge low prices because people willingly part with their money when they see a potential bargain and a cute little face in a photo the scammer has stolen from Instagram.
If a puppy or kitten is usually worth $1,000, but you’re being offered one for $400, your instinct may be to act fast to beat others for this great deal.
And that’s the behavior that scammers are preying on. A reputable, legitimate breeder will not have a buy now button on their website. Nor will a reputable, legitimate breeder let anyone adopt from them – they will want to vet the person getting their kitten or pup.
Even if the person is selling a puppy or a Ragdoll kitten, for example, and it’s a genuine advert – the fact that they don’t know the value of the animal they’re selling should tell you vast amounts about how well the pet has been taken care of until now.
The only way you’ll be able to recognize this scam is if you know the typical prices of the pet breed that you’re interested in, so you’ll need to research those.
It won’t be much extra effort since you’ll already be looking into the different breeds available and the right way to care for them.
If you don’t particularly care about what breed of cat or dog you get, you’ll still want to make sure you cross-reference prices and make sure they’re genuine.
If it seems too good to be true, walk away. It’s better to lose an imaginary perfect puppy, than handing your saved up cash over for nothing in return.
2. Sellers Asking For Additional Fees
Any professional breeder will be upfront about the costs you have to pay. Once you’ve paid for your puppy or kitten, they are reserved and ready for collection or shipping to you once ready.
But if someone is trying to scam you, they might bait you with a low deposit but then start asking you for extras – usually, they will cite problems with shipping, saying that there are unexpected fuel costs or a quarantine fee is needed.
And when you, the buyer, try to complain, that’s when the scammer will threaten you by saying they will no longer send the pet or that they’ll even report you for animal cruelty since you’re leaving an animal stranded in quarantine.
Additionally, be on the lookout for sellers who ask for payments in unusual forms – such as wire transfers or money sent as gift cards.
These are surefire signs of scams since you can’t claim that money back. Always stick to PayPal or your credit card if paying online – with those services, you can get your money back if you can prove a scam.
3. Advertisements With Stolen Photos and Descriptions
Scammers are always looking to make a quick buck, so they aren’t going to take their time writing the descriptions of the animals they’re selling. And if the puppies and kittens aren’t real, they can hardly take photos of them.
So instead, they steal them from other breeders' social media sites, or other websites.
Clever scammers will at least steal content from breeders in other countries or websites unrelated to breeding. That way, they’re less likely to be caught or suspected of scamming.
But they’re relying on you, the customer, to be naïve enough to accept anything you see at face value.
Instead, check whether you can find the content anywhere else. Copy and paste descriptions into Google and put quotation marks around the text. That way, you’ll see if the exact wording appears elsewhere.
And for images, use Google’s reverse image search. It’ll tell you if that image, or any similar photos, are online elsewhere.
Stolen photos are a major red flag. You should be able to see photos and videos of the animal you are adopting.
4. Sellers Limit the Ways That You Can Contact Them
A good breeder wants to help every person who buys from them. They want customers to feel valued and get to know the buyer, too, so they can make sure their animals end up in a safe, loving home.
Scammers want your money and will try to limit conversation as much as possible. They will likely try to keep any communication between you to emails or social media messages and will often avoid having a phone call.
They will undoubtedly avoid a video call. A genuine breeder won’t, and they will usually be happy to host a video chat with you so that you can see your potential pet live rather than in pre-recorded footage.
Some scammers will still accept phone calls, so don’t assume they are genuine if you can call them for a chat. And some scammers will send you a list of questions, making you think they care, but it is all just a ploy to fool you into thinking they are a legitimate breeder who cares.
But if they don’t let you phone them, and they’re challenging to speak to in general, consider that a warning sign.
Also, look out for poor grammar and spelling. Again, it’s not a guaranteed sign of a scammer, but scams can be run from anywhere in the world.
So, if their English is poor, it’s a potential sign that they aren’t who they say they are.
5. Pets Sold Before They Reach a Suitable Age
Newborn kittens and puppies are adorable, but that doesn’t mean you should be looking to buy one before it is ready to leave home.
Any reputable breeder will only sell you an animal once it is old enough.
Laws and recommendations vary by the animal. But as a guide, be suspicious of anyone selling a puppy younger than eight weeks or a kitten younger than 12 weeks.
Read the advertisement thoroughly because they might just be telling you the animal’s current age. For example, it’s OK to pay for a kitten that is six weeks old if you’re not going to receive them for another six weeks.
But if someone is trying to sell you an animal that’s too young, walk away from the deal. Even if it’s a genuine offer, you’ll be getting a pet that isn’t ready for its forever home, and you’ve no idea about the history or medical outlook of the animal.
How To Avoid Pet Scams
The best way to ensure you get a healthy puppy or kitten is to look for a reputable breeder. Avoid places like Gumtree, Craig’s List, etc., and stick to breeders that have full websites with various contact methods so that you can verify they are real.
Check independent reviews too, and refer to lists of known dog or cat scams and lists of fraudulent breeders to make sure they don’t appear on those.
Ideally, you’ll choose a local breeder you can visit.
But if you are looking to source a new pet, remember these warning signs. If you’re careful and don’t make any rush decisions, you shouldn’t need to worry, and your hard-earned money will be well spent on your newest family addition.