About 15 percent of people reported losing a dog or cat in the past five years, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Most times, though, there’s a happy ending, as 85 percent of those lost dogs and cats are returned home and reunited with their guardians, the report says.
And while we want to believe the good in people, and that our neighbors and community members are willing to help get our furry, four-legged companions home safely, there’s a new scam that’s totally bumming us out. Scam artists are targeting people who lose their pets and post the age-old “lost signs.”
In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the Better Business Bureau recently put out a warning about the scam.
Here’s how it goes down, according to the Better Business Bureau.
In an attempt to find your lost pet, you turn to social media—alerting your friends and neighbors. You create a public post or group because you want that message to spread far and wide, right? You share your phone number and other personal details so people can easily reach you if they find your pet.
But, then, here’s where it gets sinister.
You get a text message from someone claiming to have found your lost animal. You’re excited, and ask them to send a photo to make sure it’s your pet, and the conversation takes a strange turn. The scammer will start giving excuses, such as being out of town, or not having a smartphone that’s able to take pictures. Sketchy, right?
Then, the person will pressure you into sending money or a gift card to return your pet, says the Better Business Bureau.
“Although you may be tempted to do anything to see your dog or cat returned safely, don’t pay up!” the Better Business Bureau warns. “The scammer doesn’t have your pet. They will just take the money and disappear.”
There are lots of super-sad anecdotes that people are sharing on the Internet about scammers trying to swindle them after they’ve put out notices about missing pets.
For example, a woman who has been looking for her chihuahua Maisy set up a Facebook group and was getting text messages from somebody claiming to have her dog. It turns out the suspected scammer was texting other people with lost pets, too. Here’s what one of the messages looks like:
And, another woman in a suburb of Atlanta told local news station WSB-TV that after she lost her terrier, a man contacted her by text message saying he had the dog, but wouldn’t send pictures. He tried to get her to meet him at a nearby drugstore and buy PayPal Cash Now cards before turning over her pet.
The Hot Springs Police Department in Arkansas began warning of the scam earlier this spring.
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Here’s some tips from the BBB when it comes to posting “lost pet” signs.
- Limit the information in your social media posts: If you post on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, omit information about your pets’ unique physical attributes. This can help you verify if someone really found your pet.
- Watch for spoofed numbers: If you get a call from someone claiming to have your pet, ask them for a phone number where you can call them back. Scammers often spoof phone numbers, so they appear to be calling from somewhere else.
- Ask for a photo: If a caller claims to have your pet in their possession, ask them to send a current picture. If the “finder” gets defensive or makes a lot of excuses, consider this a red flag.
- Never wire money or use a prepaid debit card to pay anyone you don’t know. This is the same as sending cash.
- Microchip or ID tag your pet: Consider having your veterinarian microchip your pet, or make sure they always wear a collar and ID tag. This is your pet’s first ticket home if he’s picked up by animal control or taken to the humane society.