SCAM ALERT - Please read!
We were recently contacted by the Philadelphia Police Department that our clinic's name was being falsified on documents involving the purchase of pets overseas. In light of this, we wanted to make sure everyone is aware of this - and similar - scams. Unfortunately, once money is wired overseas there is not much the police can do, so we are hoping to help give advice to potential owners about how to spot these scams before falling victim to them.
Buying or adopting any pet online, without actually seeing it first is extremely risky, and we strongly recommend you do not do it!
This particular scam, that includes our clinic name, originated in Cameroon but be advised that the person offering the pet can be in any country. The offer takes can take several forms but generally offers you a free happy healthy pet that the person is either offering for free while you pay a small amount for shipping) or at a discount. Pictures are sent and introduction emails as well. This most recent scammer then claimed that the dog was seized by the USDA and that the pet was being held at our clinic until the new owner paid for nondescript veterinary treatment fees. Please be advised that we do NOT hold pets at our clinic and that we do NOT have certified USDA vets on staff.
Often, legitimate sites and clinics, such as Girard Veterinary Clinic, Pet Travel Agency, Continental Cargo, SAS, IPATA, and other sites have been cut and pasted with false paperwork to further legitimize the appearance of the scam. Even email addresses have been used from legitimate sites and slightly altered to make it seem as if you are in contact with a legitimate source.
Check out some of these breakdowns of this scam and the breakdown of what to watch out for:
Taken from PetTravel.com:
You will be asked to wire some money or purchase a cash card for a small amount, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars and sometimes more to pay for your puppy's transportation. If you send this money, there is no getting it back. Then you will then receive a second notice that your pet is being held by the customs authorities at an origination or layover airport for various reasons such as needing pet insurance (not required ever for traveling pets), special crate (air conditioning is not available on pet crates) or pressure vaccinations (no such thing). You will be asked to urgently forward additional funds to pay the customs officers so that they will release the animal or you will be subject to prosecution. This is all false; these people are the bad guys, not you. DON'T FALL FOR IT! THERE IS NO PET!
From the US Embassy:
A new twist in the conventional e-mail adoption scam has appeared recently, and this one occurs after the victim discovers that he or she has been fooled by a scam. Once the victim suspects fraud and breaks off communications with the scammers, a new e-mail message will arrive claiming to be from the Cameroonian FBI or some such police agency. These fictitious policemen will offer to recover the victim’s lost money. The scammers will then ask for a “refundable” fee to open the investigation or court files. No such police agency exists in Cameroon.
Check out these helpful tips on spotting and avoiding these scams!
Google is one the most useful tools to use in avoiding any scam, including a pet scam. Google the email address of the "seller", his or her "name", his or her phone number and the name, email address and phone number of the "pet shipping company." Many times you will find that the "seller" or "pet shipping company" has been involved in a scam which is why we post all these details.
How to spot a pet scam
1. Bad grammar - most scammers use translation services and their emails can contain misuse of words or phrases. 2. Less expensive prices for expensive breeds. This is the key to the success of internet pet scams. If the deal is too good to be true, it is very likely not a legitimate deal. 3. Unusually inexpensive prices for shipping. Pet shipping is quite expensive for unaccompanied pets, especially when they are traveling internationally. Why would anyone want to assume the cost of that for free? 4. Door to door service - also very expensive because multiple agents are involved. Also, your country's import requirements may not allow for immediate release. (see more below) 5. Payment method - always sending money by wire or the purchase of a cash card. If the person is asking you to wire money to Cameroon, then immediately cease communications with them. Cameroon is the center of all pet scams and it is extremely unlikely you are dealing with a legitimate person. Know that it is very easy for scammers to disguise their origins, so don't assume that they are legitimate if they ask you to wire the money to another location. 6. Email address - look carefully at their email address. The most important thing to look at is what comes AFTER the "@" sign. So, if someone is emailing you from PetTravel@gmail.com regarding the shipment of a puppy, it is likely not coming from a legitimate business. A legitimate business email would be info@PetTravel.com. (note the company name after the "@" sign.) 7. No ability to speak with the person over the telephone is a big red flag. Scammers do not speak with people over the phone. 8. Colorful documentation with pictures and moving graphics and seals. All animals that are transported without an owner must be accompanied with an airway bill. This documentation is not available until the day of flight and does not have pictures on it or lots of colors and animation.
What you can do to prevent being scammed
1. If you pay for anything with a credit card, you have recourse to get your money back. If you wire money or give them a cash card number, your money cannot be recovered. Insist on paying by credit card or use services like PayPal where you are protected. 2. Try calling the phone number provided. If it is disconnected, this is obviously a red flag. If there is no answer, try again. If you cannot reach the person, then cease dealing with them. 3. Tell the person you are dealing with that you are going to pick up the puppy (even if you are not) and see how they react. If they give excuses as to why you cannot do that, be very cautious in proceeding. 4. Research the shipping company. If it is legitimate, then contact them to verify that they are dealing with the person that is selling you the pet. 5. Know the procedures involved in the import of your pet to your country. All countries have requirements and all animals entering any country must be custom cleared. This takes a shipping agent to meet the plane and present the appropriate documentation for your pet to enter your country. Insist on knowing who will do this.
What to do if you have been scammed
Consumers who suspect they've been the victim of a scam like this are urged to contact the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808. They also can contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or report the scam at ic3.gov. You can also report internet pet scams to your local authorities . While you won't get your money back, you should notify local governments of the fraud.
It is important to realize that it is almost impossible to prosecute these scammers. They use free email addresses, pre-paid mobile telephones, Western Union/ MoneyGram/ Coinstar, paypal, free hosted websites and aliases so its extremely difficult to identify them. Even if you could identify them, they are in a different country beyond the legal jurisdiction of the country the victim is in. The countries where the scammer reside, mainly Cameroon and other West African nations, do not have the resources or the inclination to prosecute them.
The best method of defeating them is to post the text of their emails, the email addresses, telephone numbers, and money transfer receiver information they use. This is searchable on Google and warns away potential victims who are diligent enough to perform a search before they part with their money.
If you have any questions or have seen our name or information associated with a possible scam, please don't hesitate to call our office at 215-232-0831. We may not be able to to help if you've already fallen victim to a pet adoption or re-homing scam but we can certainly do our best to try to prevent it!