How to Spot Online Kitten Scams


Pet scam criminals often use free websites, Craig’s List, local newspapers, or Facebook to advertise pets that do not exist.

Expensive animals, like Bengal cats, are offered at incredibly low prices. Animals are offered up for adoption at no cost—all you must do is pay for the shipping. If you see an ad like this, chances are it is a scam.

These scammers are criminals. Their goal is to take your money. They will lie, they will tell you sob stories, they will send you pictures of adorable animals, they will assure you of their faith and religion - anything to get your money! They use the names of legitimate pet shippers; they pirate websites; they illegally use logos of other companies. If you see an offer that is too good to be true, it probably is.


THE HOOK

The scammer will offer pets for sale or adoption. These scammers will create a custom website and advertise on Facebook, CraigsList, TradingPost and any other classified ad websites. They will interact with you by mail, SMS or phone to convince you that they have a pet to sell or give away. The aim here is to get the intended victim emotionally invested in a fictitious pet. When people act on emotion, they are easier to scam. A scammer can target 50 people at a time. They use a series of “canned” responses which they copy and paste when replying to you. The emails are long and verbose asking questions and answering questions you have not asked. If you ask a question that is not in their script they give a short curt answer. If the “pet” is being sold and not offered for adoption the scammer will con their victims into giving hundreds of dollars in the first part of the scam.


THE STING

You are now emotionally invested in the pet. If the pet was sold (not for adoption) you are also financially invested as well.


The scammer will create a Pet Delivery Website so that you can track the delivery of your new pet. You will be given a “tracking number” which will direct you to a webpage created and controlled by the scammer. This webpage will show you that your pet is being delivered.

A day later you will receive an email that the delivery is delayed and you must pay fees. The scammer will update the webpage created for you in order to convince you that the fees are legitimate. Fees can include:

Delivery fees

Cage fees

Ventilated cage fees

Vaccines

Boarding Fees

All the above

There is no limit to the amount or variation of fees. If you pay one, they demand another and another until you cannot afford to pay more or you realize it is a scam.

Since you are emotionally invested in the pet you are expecting to receive, the scammers will take full advantage of this and blame you for cruelty because you are delaying the delivery.

The loss to the victim is often in the thousands.


THE THREAT

Once you refuse to pay any more money to the scammer, they will threaten you. One of the most common threats is “Animal Abandonment”.


Again, this is part of the scam. Animal abandonment is a crime and rightly so, but in this scenario, even if it were true, animal abandonment laws would not apply.


Some scammers can go as far as to create a website that looks like a law enforcement website. If they think they can frighten you into paying more money they will continue to phone, email and text.


SO, HOW TO PURCHASE ONLINE SAFELY?


VERIFY THE BREEDER

There is one key ingredient that fraudsters place upon victims, a sense of urgency. They will want you to make a payment deposit immediately with no actual proof that the animal you intend to purchase exists.


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual kitten for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.

Your best bet – visit the kitten in person before paying any money. Tell the seller you plan to pick the animal up yourself, saying you will fly to wherever the animal is. If they make excuses about meeting you in person, it is a scam.


Otherwise, always ask for a video-chat with the breeder. Make them show you the pet live on video! This is the most important piece of advice.


Ask for videos of the pet with a running commentary from the breeder to you personally, using today’s date and your full name.


Ask for a phone number from the breeder. Call it to insure it is legitimate.


Finally, ask for the name and number of the veterinary clinic the pet has been. Look up the veterinary clinic to insure it is real – and call to verify the breeder is a client.

Scammers will never comply with any of the above three options – but good breeders always will.


VERIFY THE CATTERY

It is always worth checking to see whether the breeder is listed in a regulated breeders directory.

Search for the website in a registered breeder directory for your country and ask the breeder for their proof of membership. If something does not add up, contact the cat association. They will be happy to help.


The International Cat Association’s directory of registered breeders, for example, is here: https://tica.org/breeds/find-a-cat/breeder-listings


DEPOSITS

Of course, it is also worth noting that the fraudster will likely require a deposit through a non-refundable payment method. Exercise extreme caution when paying with non-refundable payment methods.

Fraudsters extensively use Moneygram, Western Union, Paypal Friends & Family, Bitcoin, Gift Cards and Zelle. If you have not seen the pet in person or in a live videocall, do not pay with a non-refundable payment method.

Don’t trust a seller that pushes for the sale to happen quickly by saying they are moving, they have to get rid of the kitten asap, they can’t take care of the kitten anymore or that harm may come to the kitten.


Remember, any reputable breeder will want to ensure that the kitten they have helped bring into this world is going to a good home!


I HAVE BEEN SCAMMED, WHAT CAN I DO?

  • Stop contact with the scammer; simply ignore their email or telephone calls or block them.

  • File a report with your local law enforcement and with your local FBI or equivalent office.

  • File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov. This agency is a collaborative effort among several law enforcement agencies who use criminal email addresses and websites to track these, and hopefully, apprehend these criminals.

  • Contact the publication or site where you saw the ad. Let them know that this advertiser is a scammer, give them the email address of the scammer, and ask them to remove the ad(s) and to blacklist this person.

  • Talk with a manager at the MoneyGram or Western Union office you used to send the money. Be sure to take a copy of the emails with all the telephone numbers, names, email addresses, etc. of the scammers.

  • If you used Western Union, forward the copy of the email with the scammers recipient information to customercare. Ask them to publish information about the scam by contacting: Tom Fitzgerald

  • If you used MoneyGram, call: 1-(800)-MoneyGram. Ask them to release information about the scam by contacting: 214-303-9923 or moneygram

  • Do an online search for the advertiser’s email address. If you find the ad on other publications, let the site know about your experience so they can remove the ad or blacklist the advertise.

  • Forward only one email you received from the advertiser and only one email you received from the scam shipper to petscams. They will be added to the IPATA Scam Alert List.

EXTENSIVE LIST OF BENGAL SCAMMERS https://petscams.com/tag/Bengalkittens/


WHY DOES THE KITTEN SCAM WORK?

Pet scams are not new. They have been around since online scams began.


In the past couple of years, they have become more of an issue. This could be down to several things.


First, online shopping is now the norm.

Second, Criminal gangs are now using this method to scam consumers on an industrial scale. Last, your emotions are scammed first. The scammer will use the cutest pictures they can find on the internet to make you fall in love with a kitten they do not possess.



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