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FBI: Building a digital defense against pet adoption scams

PORTLAND, Oregon — We all love our cute and cuddly creatures. After all, there’s nothing quite like the bond of a family pet. Whether you adopt Fido from a local humane society or pay top-dollar at a breeder, we love them all the same.

But if you are looking for a good deal on a particular pedigree or really want a rare, high-cost critter, the FBI has a warning about moving too quickly. Fraudsters are prowling the web to find families who are so desperate for the perfect pooch that they are willing to adopt sight unseen.

It goes like this: You come across a pet adoption ad on social media or an online classified advertising platform. Maybe you are online every day looking for your new Fluffy, or you just happen upon a photo of a cute little face that you can’t ignore. Either way, you decide this is the pet for you. After a few brief messages and many “fees” later, the pet never shows up, and you’re left with nothing but heartbreak and an empty wallet.

Even “free” pets can be risky. The scammer will charge all sorts of fees for all sorts of reasons—ventilated crates, flights, handlers, even travel grooming.

Beth Anne Steele with the FBI office in Portland advises you shouldn’t buy a pet sight unseen.

“You meet the pet in person if at all possible,” Steele said.

Don’t pay to ship a pet if you can’t verify the seller is a reputable breeder.  Look for contact information and check with previous clients.  Your communication with the seller can be another tip off.

“If you virtually chat with the seller, watch for odd phrasing or typos.  If the seller asks you to pay via wire transfer or gift card, don’t do it,” Steele advised.

If you have been victimized by this scam or any other online scam, report it to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at or call your FBI local office.


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