Every industry has its share of scammers, and the pet industry is certainly no exception. While pet-related scams have been coming and going for decades, they’ve really ramped up over the last year.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of pet-related scams involving fake dog breeders, promising delivery of a beautiful puppy (sight unseen except for a picture or two stolen from the internet) if payment is made via e-transfer, only to result in disappointment and frustration by the individual taken advantage of.
Recently, scammers have been taking it a step further by creating fake dog rescues and asking for donations. They use emotionally-charged sob stories of struggling rescues, animals needing urgent veterinary care, and claiming they cannot accept any form of support but money due to a number of circumstances.
In this digital day and age, it is easier than ever for scammers to reach an infinite number of people over the internet. It is important to educate ourselves on these constantly evolving pet-scamming ‘red flags’ so we don’t become victims ourselves.
How To Spot a Fake Animal Rescue
Most scammers aren’t very creative. They’ll often give their phony rescue a generic-sounding name like ‘The Pet Rescue’ or ‘Dog Rescue Team’. While there are many legitimate animal rescues that have generic-sounding names, this is usually your first clue that a pet rescue may be a fake.
Due to limited resources, not all legitimate animal rescues have websites. Nonetheless, many don’t need websites because they have active social media platforms, like a page on Facebook or Instagram.
If an animal rescue has a generic name as well as no website or social media presence, there’s an even higher chance it’s a scam.
Limited Contact Information
Most real rescues will have, at a minimum, an email address and a phone number. However, scammers don’t want to be bothered with phone calls, and will sometimes not even have an email address. Many scammers use e-transfers as a way to scam donors, but the email address will not match the rescue. Many scammers will opt to talk only through Facebook Messenger under a phony profile.
Social Media Engagement
For the scammers that use social media, they will often set up a Facebook page with a few vague, blurry images and limited contact information. Their page may have a few hundred, or even a few thousand followers that all have foreign sounding names; these followers were paid for in an effort to make their page look more legitimate. Yes, you can easily buy followers for social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more. Since most of this page’s traffic is fake, you’ll also notice their posts have very limited engagements (likes, comments, shares, etc). Legitimate animal rescues usually have a great deal of engagement on their social media pages.
Contact Via Email or Social Media
Pet scammers focus on hitting up the largest possible number of people per day, and they don’t waste any time getting right to the point. They’ll usually start to lure interest with a sob story right away, and then ask for money almost immediately. Legitimate rescues are unlikely to contact you directly to ask for donations.
How to Determine if a Pet Rescue is Legitimate
To tell if an animal rescue organization is truly legitimate, consider all of the points we just talked about. Most rescues will have a unique name, an active social media following, regular posts about their activities and fundraisers, unique images, and more. Additionally, clear contact information and details about their rescue will be readily available.
Canadahelps.org has a listing of almost 1,200 animal rescues: https://www.canadahelps.org/en/explore/charities/category/animals/
If you’re considering donating to an animal rescue, consider local pets in need at organizations like the Georgian Triangle Humane Society, SMILE Animal Society, and the Grey Bruce Animal Shelter.
Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon is certified in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years’ experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.