Pet Found: Phone Scam Overview
For many people, pets are like family members and if their pet gets lost it can be heartbreaking for the individual and family. Many people will post flyers with photos of the pet, a phone number for contact, and will offer a reward if found.
Phone scammers will use this information paired with the emotional state of the owner of a lost pet in order to steal money from them.
The Set Up
There are several variations of the pet found phone scam.
Pay Reward First Variation
In this variation of the scam someone will call and say that they have found your pet. They will usually give a description of the pet that's based off of the pictures that you put on the flyer.
They will request that you pay the reward first before they return the pet, they may offer up a number of reasons for why they need you to pay them first. These reasons could range from needing to board the pet while waiting for you to collect it, or they may say that they are in another state and will need the reward money in order to get your pet back to you. In some cases, the scammer will threaten to hurt your pet if they do not receive the reward money when they demand it.
This variation will also sometimes work with pairs of scammers, where one will call first and say that they think they've found your pet and ask you for information about it. Then once they have the information they will say that they don't think it is your pet. Later on another scammer working with the first caller will claim that they have your pet and they will provide the information about your pet that you provided to the first caller back to you.
In all cases the person will demand that you pay the reward before they return your pet.
In this variation the scammer has actually stolen your missing pet and will resell it or return it for the reward that's provided. The scammer will call and state that they have found your pet, or they will list it on Craigslist. Selling animals that have been stolen or don't actually exist on Craigslist is a common scam:
423-896-1528:This guy is a fake, don't buy Puppys from him , it's a scam. He got me for $400 [sic]
Spotting and Avoiding This Scam
Although, it can be hard to think rationally when a pet is missing it's important not to panic and not to let scammers take advantage of you. Place a minimum amount of information about your pet on the flyers you post. If a caller responds to you and asks for a reward up-front for finding your pet ask them specific questions regarding markings, collar, or tags. Best case scenario is for the caller to send you a picture of your pet in their possession.
Never pay a reward by wire-transfer or pre-paid debit card without proof that the caller has your pet. Always ask for the information of the caller, such as full name and a call back number.
When getting a new pet look into microchipping it and make sure that you receive the proper paperwork and a bill of sale.
Report the Scam
If you've experienced phone fraud related to your missing pet alert your local authorities immediately. It's likely that the scammer could be in your area and targeting families who have lost pets, or worse they could be stealing pets and reselling them.
You can also help warn others in your community and run reverse phone lookups on numbers that claim to have your pet in our online phone book. Thanks to our users we have feedback on millions of U.S. phone numbers. You can check numbers for suspicious behavior in our online phone book or our free phone number tracing app for iPhone.