Your dog has gotten loose. You put up signs all over the neighborhood in addition to posting pictures of your pet with your contact information on social media in hopes of reaching a larger set of people who might have seen her or would be willing to keep an eye out. Someone finally calls you and says that they have your dog — and that you can have her back for $500.
It happens all the time, and it’s not simply a hoax. It’s extortion. In some cases, when the person refuses to pay the money, the threat escalates from refusing to return a missing dog to harming the pet if the money is not handed over.
Don’t fall for it. Scam artists are on to the fact that you view your dog as a family member; they turn to this type of ruse to make a fast buck on your emotional bond. Some go so far as to claim they bought the dog, working off the lie that after the pet went missing, it apparently ended up for sale. They want the money they supposedly paid for your lost animal. Sometimes they even want money for so-called emotional damages. They’ve become very attached to the dog, they say, and need to be compensated for the heartfelt loss you are asking them to undergo.
PetAmberAlert.com, which helps reunite lost dogs with their human family members, has names for some of the different types of scams people use to profit off your desperation.
Pay-Me-First Scam. This is the situation in which someone contacts you and claims to have your lost dog but requests reward money, whether or not you mentioned that possibility on your flier or online. Once the money is sent, the individual takes off.
Truck Driver Scam. Someone contacts you claiming to have found your dog while driving his rig. The request for money is wrapped in a long-winded tale about needing the cash to pay another trucker who is heading to your area and can bring your dog with him if given money. Scam within the scam: The request may be attached to a secondary request for yet more money to board your dog until the trucker sets out.
Tag Team Scam. Someone calls to tell you they think they have your dog. But after asking a few questions, the caller feigns regret. It turns out the dog they claim to have found (remember, they don’t have your pet) does not fully match your detailed description. Your hopes are dashed but then raised again when yet another person contacts you, armed with the detailed information about your dog that you gave to his accomplice. He is able to describe all the quirky mannerisms or small markings that “guarantee” he has your dog. A request for you to forward money follows.
Airline Ticket Scam. This one has overtones of the Truck Driver Scam. You’re told your dog has resurfaced in another state. Money will be required to board your pet and purchase a plane ticket for her. Once you send the money, you stop being able to reach the caller.
Keep from falling for the scams
The Better Business Bureau offers four excellent suggestions for how to avoid being taken in the midst of your despair and anxiety about having been separated from your dog.
When you put out information about your lost dog, don’t supply details that anyone other than someone who truly has your dog would know. For instance, giving your dog’s coloring and size and overall markings is fine. But don’t say he has a brown spot shaped like the Empire State Building under his left rear limb. Instead, ask the person calling to lift that limb and describe what he sees.
Get a phone number from the caller — “in case we are disconnected” — and then make sure you can reach him.
Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Once the money has been sent, there is nothing you can do to get it back.
Be suspicious of anyone who brings up money for returning your dog to you, even if you have offered it in your outreach. Most people who would go through the trouble of taking in a lost dog are only too happy to reunite a person with his pet. Money is not what drives them.