PhotoWhen a pet goes missing, the first thing many pet parents do is post about it on social media. But reporting missing pets on Facebook and other social networking sites may expose you to a scam.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning pet owners that public posts about missing pets that include a phone number and other details can catch the eye of scammers.

To prevent pet owners from falling victim to a scam, the BBB is urging consumers to use caution when posting about missing pets.

Pet loss scam

Owners of missing pets usually jump at the chance to hear out any potential lead as to the whereabouts of their furry family member -- and scammers can be quick to take advantage of this vulnerability.

A few days after a pet owner posts on social media about a missing pet, they may get a text message from someone claiming to have found their pet.

But when the poster requests a description or photo of the pet, the scammer will give excuses, such as being out of town or not having a working smartphone. The scammer will then pressure the owner for money to return their lost pet, despite the fact that they did not actually find the pet.

Best way to spread the word

Casting a wide net is important when a pet goes missing, but mentioning your contact info in a public post on social media can expose you to scams, says the BBB.

So what’s the best way to report a missing pet? Cleburne Animal Services Manager Mindy Henry suggests walking in to all local animal shelters within a 50 mile radius and reporting the pet as missing.

“Hand out flyers to these establishments,” she told the Cleburne Times Review. “Also take flyers to the local vet offices and/or retail pet establishments.” 

What to remember

In the unfortunate event that your pet goes missing, the BBB offers the following tips for posting online:

  • Limit info on social posts. Omit information about unique physical attributes -- a scar, a marking, etc. If someone claims to have found your pet, they should be able to tell you about your pet's unique marking.
  • Ask to call them back. Scammers often use spoofed numbers in order to appear to be calling from somewhere else. If you get a call from someone who says they have your pet, ask them for a phone number where you can call them back.
  • Ask for a photo. The person who claims to have found your pet should be able to send you a current picture of your pet. Be wary of callers who get defensive or make lots of excuses.
  • Never send money. Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card to pay anyone you don’t know. "That is theft and it is illegal," says Henry. "They cannot charge a 'ransom' to give a pet back."
  • Microchip and/or ID tag your pet. Consider having your veterinarian microchip your pet, or make sure they always wear a collar and ID tag.

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