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All You Need to Know About Pet Adoption Scams

 Sep 15, 2023
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Pet adoption can be an incredibly rewarding experience. After all, there’s nothing quite like coming home after a long workday and being greeted by a cuddly, furry friend. Unfortunately, though, scammers often exploit people’s adoration for animals through pet adoption scams. Let’s take a closer look at pet adoption scams and how to protect yourself from falling victim.

How these scams play out

In a pet adoption scam, fraudsters pose as legitimate pet sellers or rescue organizations to scam potential adopters. They may advertise pets online, usually at lower-than-market prices, and use emotional appeals to lure unsuspecting individuals. Variations of these scams include “puppy mills,” where animals are bred in inhumane conditions and then sold, or “phantom pets,” where scammers falsely claim to have pets available for adoption. In the first scam, the buyer is charged exorbitant fees for one of these neglected pets. In the second, the buyer eagerly makes the required payments and then waits for their new pet that never arrives. 

Red flags to watch for

If you’re in the market for a new pet, or you’re the kind of person who will be in the market as soon as you lay eyes on a picture of an adorable puppy or kitten, it’s best to brush up on these red flags, which may indicate a pet scam:

  • The seller only communicates through email.
  • The seller demands upfront payment.
  • The seller refuses to provide necessary documentation and verifiable details about the pet’s background or health.
  • The seller asks for additional fees for shipping, vaccinations or permits. 
  • The ad featuring the adoptable pet is riddled with grammar mistakes and misspelled words.
  • All photos of the pet are generic, stock photos.

If a potential pet seller shows any of these red flags, you are likely looking at a scam.

Search safely for a pet

When searching for a pet to adopt, take protective measures to ensure you’re only dealing with legitimate sellers. Carefully research and verify the authenticity of the seller or rescue organization before proceeding with an adoption. Look for a physical address, contact information and secure online presence. Check out any online reviews, testimonials or complaints about the seller. Confirm the organization’s affiliation with recognized animal welfare associations or governing bodies. Finally, reach out to local animal shelters or breed-specific rescues to validate the legitimacy of the seller.

Finalizing an adoption

Once you’ve found a pet to adopt, continue to exercise caution as you finalize the sale. 

First, insist on meeting the seller and pet or visiting the rescue organization in person before going through with the adoption. This will enable you to observe the animal’s living conditions, assess its health and directly interact with it. Legitimate sellers or organizations will encourage these visits and provide an opportunity for you to ask questions or address any concerns. Scammers, of course, will provide any number of excuses as to why it’s impossible for you to meet them and your potential new pet. 

If everything checks out and you’ve seen the pet and all necessary documentation, be sure to use a secure payment method that offers fraud protection, such as a credit card. As always, do not wire money to an unverified contact or pay them via gift card.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a pet adoption scam, take steps to help the proper authorities apprehend the scammers. First, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at You can also alert local law enforcement agencies, and let your friends and family know about the ruse so they can be on alert, too. 

Adopting a pet is a super-exciting time, but scammers can quickly turn this experience into a nightmare. Use the tips outlined here to learn what you need to know about pet adoption scams and how to avoid them. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a pet adoption scam? Tell us about in the comments!

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