Romance Scams and Pet Scams are More Similar Than You May Think

Before becoming CEO at PuppySpot.com, the trusted service for connecting dog lovers to screened and vetted breeders nationwide, Greg Liberman was CEO of Spark Networks, the parent company to niche online dating giants JDate and ChristianMingle. Liberman spent a decade establishing trusted, leading brands in an industry fraught not only with stigma, but also with scammers.

Romance scams typically consist of con artists creating fake profiles, building trust with a victim and then asking them to send money. In contrast, Liberman and his team worked hard to make the Spark Networks portfolio of dating sites safe places for people to build lifelong relationships – the subscription-based sites leveraged background checks, used advanced fraud-prevention technology to validate credit card information, provided safe communication tools for singles to get to know each other in a secure online environment and employed a customer service team to manually review photos and profiles before they went live on their sites, among many other measures.

Shortly after joining PuppySpot, it became clear that many of the same scam-combatting insights gleaned from the online dating industry could be deployed in the pet industry which, according to a recent study by the BBB, is also riddled with fraud (the study claimed, for example, that some 80% of sponsored advertising links that appear in Internet searches for pets may be fake). Knowing that, it’s no surprise that it can be difficult to find the right, trusted source.

Enter PuppySpot. PuppySpot was explicitly created to fill this trust gap and serve as a transparent source that eliminates all of the scary unknowns associated with fetching your new best friend. PuppySpot works directly with responsible, vetted breeders and handles everything, including matching the potential dog owner to the right puppy, ensuring vaccinations are up to date, delivering the puppy, and much more. PuppySpot puppies must also pass a proprietary nose-to-tail health exam and come with a 10-year health guarantee.

Whether looking to build a family by getting married or adding a healthy puppy, both are emotional experiences that put people in vulnerable states and make them more susceptible to unscrupulous scam artists. That’s what the scam artists count on. But, whether you’re dating or looking for a pet, if you educate yourself about red flags and best practices, you can minimize the risk of falling victim to fraudulent actors.

Here are a few simple tips that will help protect pet seekers (and online daters) against online scammers:

1) Never wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram to anyone you have only met online. Not only are those payments notoriously difficult to trace, but are impossible to cancel or reverse. The recipient does not need a bank account and, regardless of any legitimate-sounding address they may give you, it does not matter since they will walk into the Western Union or Moneygram branch to pick up your money, personally. Any reputable online (or offline) source will offer alternative, safer payment methods, such as credit cards or Paypal.

2) If it seems too good to be true, it likely is. This applies equally to the online dating and pet spaces. For example, in online dating, if profile photos look like they’re taken of models, all look like they were professionally shot or showcase wealthy pursuits, those are red flags. In the puppy adoption space, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” is important to keep in mind. And, on the photo front, if an adorably perfect pet photo looks like a stock image, think twice.

3) Beware of anyone who refuses to communicate outside of email. Any legitimate puppy adoption service will not only offer the option to speak on the phone, but require it. As much as you want to screen them, they want to screen you to make sure you will provide a safe and happy home for their puppy. So, if you’re looking for a puppy and the seller makes it difficult to communicate offline, you are right to be suspicious.

4) Be sensitive to grammatical errors and strange language choices. The vast majority of online scammers reside in foreign countries (according to the BBB study, most pet scammers they identified were in West African nations like Cameroon), so a major red flag would be language inconsistencies or odd grammar in communications or listings in general.

5) Take note of bogus stories or excuses, often tied to current events. Many scammers will come up with complicated reasons why they may need an immediate wire transfer or, in many puppy scams, often additional funds paid to alleged third-parties, like travel insurers or transportation companies. Any legitimate source will handle all payments directly and make sure you know who you are dealing with. In other words, they will be transparent. If they are not, then you may be dealing with a scammer.

For more information on how to spot a pet scam, please see our official press release on the subject. And if you’ve been a victim of fraud, please contact us at [email protected] Also, here are a list of resources that may help:

• Call the Federal Trade Commission. 1-877-FTC-HELP
• Homeland Security Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security also handles international fraud. Call 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada)
• Contact the FBI cybercrimes unit
If you sent money through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak, you should also contact those companies directly. They can offer information about the transactions, and download their complaints into the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database, which is used by police around the country.