Pets and Animals In Depth

Pet and Animal Scam Statistics 2020 USA


4.3k estimated reports (U.S. & Canada)
34.5% of all online purchase scams

$750 loss median loss per pet scam

Source: BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report

Sections on this page
  1. What Are Pet and Animal Scams?
  2. Red Flags of Pet and Animal Scams
  3. Most Common Pet and Animal Scams
  4. How to Beat Pet and Animal Scams
  5. Fallen Victim to a Pet or Animal Scam?

A recent report by the Better Business Bureau revealed that in 2020 pet scammers were successful 70% of the time, costing victims an average of $750. Like other kinds of consumer fraud, pet scams have become easier to execute thanks to online payment systems and the ease with which scammers can hide their identities. The good news is if you're looking for a new furry friend, there are ways to avoid a pet scam, red flags to look out for, and methods you can use to beat them.

What Are Pet and Animal Scams?

There are several versions of different pet scams to be aware of. Most, if not all, pet scams involve some selling a pet—or at least they pretending to sell one.

They'll use pets to prey on people looking for a new furry friend, who may be more vulnerable to scams because they have a need they want to fulfill as soon as possible. They'll use cute photos of animals to tug at your heartstrings and make you fall in love with the pets before you even get to see them in person.

Most pet scams will happen on classified websites, like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and OfferUp.

Red Flags of Pet and Animal Scams

Knowing certain red flags can help you identify a pet or animal scam and avoid it. If you notice one or more of the following, it's best to stop and look for a pet elsewhere.

Not Being Able to See the Pet in Person

If a seller refuses to let you see the pet in person before sending payment, it's likely a scam. Don't ever hand over any money until you have the pet in your possession. It's always better to buy from a local seller so you can see the pet in person.

Example of online puppy scam.

Pets Being Offered for Free

If you ever see an offer for a "free" pet, you should be careful. While the scammer will agree to give you the pet for free, they may charge you shipping or other fees.

Animals Being Sold at a Heavily Discounted Price

Before shopping for a pet, you should get a rough range as to how much the kind of animal you'd like should cost, and if the price is significantly less, beware. The scammer may just be trying to entice you with a great price.

The Seller Asking for Extra Money

A request for extra money, whether for shipping costs or anything else, is a typical red flag. All fees should be disclosed upfront, along with details regarding what they cover.

Emails from Airlines After Purchasing a Pet

Another common pet scam red flag is an email from an airline asking that you pay more money for the safe transport of your new pet. The email may claim that the pet needs a particular carrier, documentation, or shots before being allowed to fly—and that you can obtain these for a fee.

Most Common Pet and Animal Scams

The most common pet scams involve free pets for sale, pets offered at discounted prices, and sellers asking for more money after the initial sale.

"Free Pet for Sale!"

In a free pet scam, the thief posts an ad complete with cute pictures and extensive details about a pet or animal they claim to have. They then make you pay money for something involved with getting the pet to you safely, such as shots needed for air travel or a special container.

Pet Shipping Scams

Some scammers will offer "free" pets and only ask you to pay for shipping. For example, they may say you need to pay for the pet's airfare or ground transportation. But after you pay for the animal's shipping, they never send it to you, keep your money, and disappear.

Fake Airline Emails

A scammer may send you an email that looks like it comes from an airline, demanding that you pay for additional measures to ensure the safe delivery of a pet you're buying. In addition, the email may claim that they can't ship the pet unless you obtain certain documents, carriers, or immunizations.

People Pretending to Be IPATA Partners

The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) does business with legitimate shipping companies, and scammers may pose as one of these businesses. They often copy certificates, websites, and testimonials to make it look like they have a legitimate relationship with the IPATA.

Holiday Pet Scams

During the holidays, people are often eager to put a memorable smile on someone's face with a cute new pet, and scammers like to take advantage of this. They may offer pets at a "holiday discount" or "seasonal deal," often for far less than you would typically have to pay. Then they ask you to wire them money through a company like Western Union. After getting your wire, they never send the pet.

How to Beat Pet and Animal Scams

If you come across an animal or pet scam, you can take the following steps to beat it:

  • Refuse to pay the scammer any money unless you're able to see the animal in person, as well as its paperwork.
  • Don't send any money and immediately report the scammer if you get an email from an airline from a suspicious email address, such as am @gmail.com or another free account.
  • If you've already sent payment to a scammer, try to intercept it, whether you try to cancel the transaction with the money transfer company or cancel the delivery of a check.

Fallen Victim to a Pet or Animal Scam?

If you've fallen for an animal or pet scam, you can report the fraud to [email protected]. The IPATA has been recognized as a safe, secure way of transporting pets. While it's unlikely they can help get your money back, they keep a record of known scammers, including the emails they send and the websites they use.

You can also:

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) either online or by calling 877-382-4357.
  • Reach out to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which the FBI manages to help address online fraud.
  • Report the scammer to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
  • Report the scam to the website you used to purchase it (e.g., Craigslist).
  • Dispute the charge with your bank or money transfer app/company.

If you've wired money to a scammer and they haven't claimed it yet, you may be able to stop the payment. For instance, if you used Western Union, you could log into your account and cancel the transfer before the scammer receives it.

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