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Scammers target pet sitters as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on

The scheme has been successful at targeting a growing number of new pet owners over the last year

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Photo (c) Group4 Studio - Getty Images
There was a big increase in pet ownership during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the demand for pet products and services has also seen an exponential increase. Not surprisingly, that’s fertile ground for scammers.

In the latest twist, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that scammers are targeting pet sitters or students who might be interested in becoming a pet sitter to earn extra money. The objective is to gain sensitive personal information that can be sold on the dark web.

Look out for red flags

It works like this: an unsolicited contact is made by email. The sender claims to be a family that is moving to the area and will need pet-sitting services immediately. They provide a lot of made-up details like their name, their pet’s name, information about the family, and their job to earn trust. They also offer an above-market rate and say no in-person interview is required because you seem to be the perfect candidate. That should be a very big red flag.

Once someone agrees to take the pet sitting job, they are asked to provide details about themselves -- such as their name, address, phone number, date of birth, Social Security number, and even banking information. They are told the bank information is needed to set up direct deposit payments.

In one version of the scam, the operators may send the pet sitter a large cashier’s check with instructions to purchase supplies and wire what’s left back to the scammer. Again, that is another sizable red flag since scammers have used that method for years.

What to do

You can avoid these kinds of scams by remaining alert and recognizing red flags when they begin to wave. For starters, don’t provide any personal information to someone you don’t know.

While the scammer may say no in-person interview is required, tell them your policy is to never accept a job without one. Tell them both parties need to be sure it’s a good fit. At that point, a scammer will most likely lose interest.

If you are unsure if you are dealing with someone who truly needs your services, verify the information you have received. One way to do that is to ask to connect with them on social media. Look for the address they provided to see who actually lives there.

Finally, understand the tricks scammers use and recognize them when they appear. Someone you don’t know asking for personal information is a big red flag. An even bigger one is when you are asked to return money from an overpayment in some way that is untraceable.

For example, if you are asked to put money on gift cards and provide the numbers to someone, you are dealing with a scammer 100% of the time.

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