Don’t Be a Victim – How to Prevent the 6 Biggest Pet Scams

Many scams exist to separate you from your money, your beloved pet or both. But if you’re savvy, you can protect yourself and your pets from falling prey to a ruse.

By: Don Hankins
Check the reputation of any organization you plan to donate to. By: Don Hankins

Love don’t cost a thing? Not for victims of pet scams. Here’s a rundown of the top 6 ruses and how to prevent them:

1. Dognapping

As the name implies, pets (usually dogs) are snatched from unattended backyards, cars, or even while in the company of caretakers — and then thieves wait for a reward to claim for the pet’s safe return, or brazenly demand a ransom.

Just 1 week before surveillance video captured a dognapping in progress at tattoo shop in British Columbia, Vancouver, another pet parent in that city paid $500 for the safe return of her Chihuahua, who has held for ransom after being stolen from outside another business. But thieves can reap even more: In past cases in the U.S., several pet parents paid upward to $10,000 for the safe return of “missing” pets, with “no questions asked.”

Although you can’t prevent a grab-and-go, stolen dogs with microchips are considered by the legal system as stolen property, making a stronger case for criminal charges.

And here’s something exciting to know: You can get reimbursed for the cost of microchipping under Embrace Pet Insurance’s Wellness Rewards. Curious about the cost of pet health insurance? It’s more affordable than you probably think. Get your FREE, no-hassle quote here (affiliate link).

It’s also wise to report missing pets to police or your local animal control officer. This way, should someone subsequently request a reward for a “found” pet, an on-file report puts you on stronger ground if you decide to take legal action.

And when posting “lost” ads and fliers, do not offer a reward because that may only incentivize the criminals.

2. The Puppy Pilfer

It starts with online advertisements for a prized purebred pup at a bargain price – say, a few hundred dollars for a dog that legitimate breeders might sell for thousands. It ends with upfront payment — usually requested by wire transfer or prepaid debit card — but no dog delivery.

Reason: The for-sale pooches don’t actually exist. Their photographs are stolen from other websites and scammers simply invent back stories.

Some claim to be breeders (sometimes stealing names of well-recognized ones in rogue websites or newly established Gmail accounts). Others say they are working overseas (they are, this ruse is often the work of African scammers) or have relatives whose beloved dog produced a litter just before they died or were hospitalized. Whatever the claim, would-be pet parents are asked to pay in advance. If they do, additional requests continue – for supposed permits, health certificates, insurance, shipping or boarding.

These scams are often done by overseas scammers, so look for frequent misspellings and Scammer Grammar in advertisements. Beware of any seller that only wants to correspond by email, and realize that legitimate breeders don’t sell their dogs sight-unseen.

Money requests by wire transfer and prepaid debit card should also raise red flags: they’re the preferred payment methods by scammers because they’re harder to track and can be redeemed anywhere — and not necessarily where the “seller” claims to be.

3. Pet “Flipping”

In this offshoot, crooks post ads on Craigslist or in local newspapers, trying to sell to unsuspected new families beloved household pets that they dognapped or found. In some cases, rightful pet families see ads for their MIA mutts and try to reclaim them, only to have their pleas (and rewards) for a safe return ignored, so crooks can reap more profit elsewhere.

There are even isolated cases where fraudsters reply to “free-to-good-home” postings placed by caretakers who can no longer keep the animal — and then sell them on the free market. Last year, an Atlanta family spotted a “for sale” ad one day after relinquishing their dog to a man with a heartfelt story claiming the animal would be a birthday present for her daughter. In reality, he was a pet-flipper.

In this ruse, scammers may include a phone number in ads for a quick and easier sale. So if you suspect pet-flipping, call police before the seller: That phone number may help track down the thief.

This video shows the story of a breeder who had his stolen bulldog puppies later listed online for sale:

4. Puppy Mill Maladies

Many puppies sold in pet stores, at flea markets and over the Internet come from puppy mills, usually legal but inhumane facilities where dogs are often kept in filthy cages without medical care or adequate food. As a result, they are often sick when purchased — or develop illness shortly thereafter.

The good news: At least 21 states have puppy “lemon laws” that protect buyers — with refunds, replacement pets, or payment for veterinary care — who purchase from pet dealers animals later found to have disease or defects. (These laws typically do not include pets adopted from rescue or municipal animal shelters.)

Still, even if your state is included, it’s advised to not purchase any pet online.

Don’t Miss: Puppy Mill Red Flags — Don’t Be an Accidental Supporter

5. Animal Control Impostors

In this sporadic scheme, scammers pose as enforcers from the local pound, threatening to impound a family pet due to alleged complaints…unless a fine is immediately paid.

Although these crooks may carry business cards or badges suggesting they’re from Animal Control or a third-party providers working on its behalf, better “proof” comes with a phone call to the official agency. You’ll likely be told that its employees don’t demand on-the-spot payment to prevent seizing your dog.

6. Pet Rescue Scams

Indeed, legitimate volunteer and nonprofit rescues do outstanding work — and often rely on donations of money and supplies. Scammers know that our love for pets is perfect for pulling on heartstrings — and wallets — with unsolicited donations made by telephone, door-to-door visits and online.

In some cases it’s not just a quick buck, but a risk of identity in providing financial account numbers to strangers. You can’t trust Caller ID; displayed numbers can be spoofed. Scammers also create phony “rescue” websites, so check domain origin at and reputation at or breed associations.

Officials say that most unsolicited charitable solicitations that come via email from groups to which you never donated are fraudulent. Don’t give at the front door before independently checking the group’s reputation: Legitimate charities will have leave-behind information you can authenticate.

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