Pet adoption scams proliferate during the pandemic

Photo credit: JACLOU-DL - Wikimedia Commons reports these criminal schemes are up 42 percent

Early in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, when Americans were homebound and sheltering in place, there was a wave of pet adoptions as people sought companionship.

Scammers noticed and began launching cruel schemes to separate people from their money.

In one of the latest operations, a scammer in Fargo, N.D. posed as a cat breeder and swindled people nationwide. The Valley News reports Fargo police have received a number of complaints, including from a victim in Arizona.

That individual told police they lost more than $2,000, paying fees for adoption, vaccines, shipping, a city permit, and an additional request for $1,000 for COVID-related fees.

According to, pet adoption scams have risen 42 percent this year. Scammers launch websites purporting to be breeders or adoption agencies. They use stock photos of adorable puppies and kittens to tug at the heartstrings.

In nearly every case, the victim lives out of the area and doesn’t see the pet in person -- a crucial mistake. That’s because, in nearly every case, the animal doesn’t exist. The fees demanded by the scammer, however, are very real.

A consistent pattern says these pet scams often follow a consistent pattern. After the victims are hooked on a particular dog or cat, they are told about the money required to take possession of it. In one case cited by the organization, a victim was told:

  • To pay $500 to ship the puppy via American Airlines;

  • To pay $970 for a crate to ship the puppy safely;

  • To pay $1,500 for insurance to make sure the puppy arrived safely;

  • To pay $760 for the puppy’s shots.

The victim was instructed to make the first payment using a Reloadit money card and subsequent payments using Western Union. Both are bright red flags that you’re dealing with a scammer. Scammers often want no part of being paid with a credit card, which has fraud protection.

Some other ways to protect yourself from these criminals is to only adopt a pet that you have seen in person. Ask a lot of questions.

Finally, consider adopting a pet from a local animal shelter. Animals have usually been well cared for and costs are much lower.

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