Internet Pet Adoption Scams

A Maltese puppy
A Maltese puppy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has learned that scam artists falsely represent themselves as CDC employees in emails to US citizens and residents.

These scammers use different strategies, such as posing as government representatives in emails, offering purchases of life insurance for pets, and promising shipment to the victim’s home. They also use other methods like text messages and phone calls to solicit payments and gain access to the personal information of victims.

Victims are sometimes asked to send money overseas to adopt a dog. The scammer tells the victim a CDC port health station is holding the dog and lists numerous conditions that must be met—including payment of fees—before the dog can be released.

CDC doesn’t quarantine dogs and doesn’t require a fee to bring them into the country.

Typical Animal Adoption Scams

CDC cautions consumers to be aware of the potential for fraud involving internet pet purchases or fee-for-adoption of “rescued” animals. Similar scams have been reported for cats and monkeys. In most of these scams, victims respond to newspaper or internet ads offering animals for adoption in exchange for shipping costs. Potential pet adopters should know that it is illegal to import certain animals to the United States as pets, including monkeys and other nonhuman primates.

Typically, the person offering the animal for adoption lives in another country and claims to be looking for a good home for the animal. Victims may be asked to pay adoption fees, medical fees, export fees, and even shipping fees up front but never receive the animal. In many cases, they learn the animal never existed.

In addition, there are cases of victims receiving animals that don’t match the description of the internet ads or receiving animals with falsified veterinary records (i.e., records that give false information about the animal’s vaccination status). This can result in the shipment of dogs that are unhealthy upon arrival.

Fraudulent Rescue groups

Some rescue groups claim to rescue dogs from horrible conditions (such as dog meat markets) and charge hefty “adoption” fees, while actually operating for-profit puppy mills. The dogs live in inhumane conditions and often get sick or die shortly after arriving in the United States. The scammers use photos of dogs in deplorable settings to pull at your heartstrings and purse strings. Verify the reputations of rescue groups before purchasing an animal from overseas (see tips below for avoiding scams).

Groups taking advantage of increased demand for dog adoptions during COVID-19

Many people decided to adopt a dog for companionship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers take advantage of this and have been prosecuted for their puppy cyber-scams. They would often charge $600 up front for a dog and then send fake shipping information. They would claim delivery was held up due to the pandemic and ask for additional payments. One person paid $9,100 for a mini-dachshund that never arrived.

Tips for Avoiding Animal Adoption Scams

  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research about the costs of typical overseas animal adoptions and know how the process works.
  • Learn how you can help ensure safe and ethical international dog adoptions. Learn about federal requirements for shipping animals such as dogs, cats, and monkeys by reading Bringing an Animal into the United States.
  • Research the organization before agreeing to adopt a dog from them. Be sure to read reviews about the organization and consider asking the organization if you can speak to previous clients to ensure they are transparent and put animal health, safety, and welfare first.
  • Independently verify each piece of information given to you about a potential international pet adoption. For example, if the importer gives you the telephone number of the airline for sending the animal, look up the airline’s telephone number on the internet. Call the airline to verify the shipping information the importer provided.
  • Do not send money that is requested before shipment of the animal.
  • Report internet or newspaper scams to federal authorities.