You wouldn’t trust a stranger on the street with your money, so why let your guard down when on the internet? Neither would you entrust your personal details to strangers, so this too should equally apply on the internet.
Worldwide about 80% of all pet ads and websites are scams. South Africa is no exception.
1. Unless you can physically see, feel and touch the pet, stay away.
The simplest way to avoid being scammed is not to buy a pet off the internet. Rather seek out a reputable breeder in your area. Not only will you avoid being scammed, you may well avoid puppy mills as well, potentially saving you a fortune on future vet bills. Here are some resources to use to trace your desired pet breed or find a reputable kennel in your area:
- KUSA (Dogs)
They are happy to assist prospective dog owners.
- South African Canine Breed Registry (Dogs and Cats)
They have pages for their members.
- Pets' Place
Eileen Gibb is well-known in ethical breeder circles.
2. Do your homework. Seek out the registries and reputable parties, rather than looking for a pet in an advert. Animal lovers do not mind sharing information with prospective new owners. Existing owners of your desired pet type are also a great resource. If you absolutely have to revert to looking for a pet on the net, adopt the attitude that everybody is out to scam you. Although reputable registries are also online, statistically you have a better chance of being right in that assumption than wrong, that is what the 80% tells you.
Taking a few precautionary steps when dealing with strangers on the internet and investing some time in doing your own homework may not only save you a lot of money, but also heartbreak. Think with your head and not your heart.
3. Scammers look legit. Dodgy pet sites spend a lot of time doing their homework in order to seem credible. Trust your gut instinct. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Do not operate on an emotional level.
4. Set up a disposable email address to use. Use this email address to communicate with potential sellers.
5. Research the seller’s contact details. Does an online search reveal scam reports? Research the physical address, email and telephone numbers. Any pet website that has no address and telephone number should be regarded with extreme suspicion.
If you have a telephone number, search for that telephone number in all possible formats. For example; 082 345 6789 can be written as:
- 082 3456789
- +27 82 345 6789
6. The seller is a moving target. If a seller claims to be in an area, but is suddenly in another area when you ask if you can see the pets, it’s a major red flag. If you are requested to use a courier, it’s part of the scam. Break off all contact if this happens.
7. Never share your details. If the seller wants to know where you are located, what type of property you have, etc. before sharing information on the pets, it may be that you are being set up. While real pet sellers might be doing a check on a prospective owner’s ability to look after a pet, scammers try and obtain the same information under this guise. Never share any personal identifying information with anybody until you are totally convinced they are real. Not even your phone number. Be selective in what you share. Scammers also try to gauge your financial status and if you’re wanting to buy a pet for a child – as this will allow for later emotional pressure, sometimes even to the point of threats of blackmail against you and your family.
8. Some general clues: While bad grammar may be a clue, also look out for other clues like a gift/care pack, playing on your emotions, abundant use of phrases like “our babies”, trying to pressure you into a decision in any way or suddenly being out of the country...
9. Registration claims: Any party claiming that young puppies are AKC (American Kennel Club) registered, will be a scammer. If a seller claims to be registered with KUSA or any such institution, check with that institution. Also ensure that you check the address and telephone number to be the same. Impersonation is a major reality.
10. Double check photos. If you are dealing with a scammer, you may have received pet photos by this time. If not, ask for a few photos. Use a reverse image search tool to see if these images have been used previously. Also take note of similar images that form part of the same set (same background, etc.). Some reverse image tools are https://images.google.com, https://www.bing.com/image, https://yandex.com/images and https://www.tineye.com/
11. Perform a website check. If you are supplied with a pet website, check if this website is stolen or similar to other websites. Scammers tend to re-publish the same scam template websites again and again. A good tool for this is https://www.copyscape.com/. Check the “About Us”, “Testimonials” or similar pages to research what has been said about them. But be aware that testimonial housed on a scam site are most likely fabricated or written by staff.
12. When you can call. Only once you are happy that you are most likely dealing with a real person and a real pet, phone them up. If you are using a cell phone, hide your number. Alternatively phone from work via the switchboard if it does not reveal your extension. If anything sounds amiss, break off all contact.
13. The go-see. Once you have taken all the precautionary steps and believe the seller is real, arrange for a viewing of the pet prior to buying. Always ensure you have somebody trustworthy going with you for physical protection. Avoid isolated places. Try to avoid having to ship the pet via a courier. Some pets are rare and shipping may be the only option. In such cases try to find a friend or trustworthy party in the seller’s district to view the pet to ensure both the seller and pet are legitimate. Never use somebody the seller suggests. However, this should only be done as a last resort and is extremely risky.
As an alternative, also consider adopting a pet from a rescue shelter or the SPCA. Some amazingly beautiful animals, with beautiful natures are begging for a home.
If you’ve been scammed or think you may have stumbled upon such a pet scam you can report it here: https://za.scampup.info/blog/report-a-scam/