When a pet disappears, owners can become distraught, calling animal shelters, advertising in local papers, posting photos on every telephone pole and fence post all in the hope of hearing news of their lost animal. At such times, pet owners are also more vulnerable to fraud. Consider the following scenarios:
- The truck passerby: You get a call from a truck driver who says they're calling from another state. Seeing your flyers, they recognized the cat (or dog) as yours. A few days ago, when delivering goods in your area, the animal somehow stowed away on the truck.
Before becoming aware of the animal, the truck driver says they'd driven through two states. Unfortunately, the pet also had some (unspecified) health problems, so they paid a visit to a veterinarian. If you want your pet returned, you're told, several hundred dollars must be transferred to the truck driver's account to cover the vet costs.
Only one problem is that the truck driver doesn't have your pet, and never did. They found the description of your animal, and are using that information to exploit you.
- The tag team: Again, someone responds to your lost pet ad. The caller sympathizes with you, then pumps you for descriptive details about your lost pet. In this scenario, the caller reluctantly informs you that they don't have the pet you're describing. After hanging up, the caller shares unadvertised details about the pet (details that you provided) with their partner. The partner then contacts you and provides such a convincing description that you're persuaded. By the way, they say, please transfer the reward money to my account.
How can you protect yourself against such scams?
- Provide only partial information in advertisements and flyers. Then, when someone responds to an ad, ask open-ended questions such as, "Please describe the cat to me," instead of yes/no questions such as, "Does Fluffy have two gray spots on his back?"
- Beware of callers who appear to be fishing for information.
- Be suspicious of callers from other states or countries.
- If you're offering a reward, don't let money change hands until the lost pet is in your possession.