You might assume that defenseless homeless animals would never be the subject of a malicious telephone scam, but unfortunately anything is fair game for unscrupulous bad actors. A robocall scam, designed to collect cash, has recently been identified that is targeting those with a love for rescue animals.

In 2020 and 2021 pet adoptions boomed as more people had the time to care for a furry friend at home according to a study from frontiers in Veterinary Science. Many rescue shelters had a shortage of animals to adopt, leaving some desperate to find a dog, cat or other pet. Scammers found a way to take advantage of this by impersonating shelters, breeders or as an individual needing to re-home their pet.

The scammer may claim there is a waiting list for the animal and ask you to put down a refundable deposit, which they will not give back. They may also claim you need to pay for vet bills such as vaccinations and surgeries before the adoption can go through. The seller may offer the pet at a discounted rate.  The darkest scammers may threaten to euthanize the animal if you do not pay the fees. IPATA shows other ways that scammers may try to lure you in beyond robocalling.

If you are working with an individual who needs to rehome their pet, do not pay them for anything until you meet the animal in person. The best place to meet is in a public, open space such as a park.

Be cautious as scammers will have most likely have taken photos of animals from the internet to add to their phony listing. Reverse image search is a great tool to determine whether a pet adoption is legitimate. Look up the images of the animal and see if they can be found online.

It’s also important to remember that when a pet is up for adoption, the shelter or previous owner wants to confirm it is going to a loving and caring home. They should ask lots of questions about your lifestyle, financial and housing situation, and experience with animals. If the seller is not asking questions like these, that is a red flag for a scam.

Luckily, this scam is easy to avoid. Contacting a local rescue shelter directly is the best option for a successful and fraud-free pet adoption. Call-blocking apps, including those powered by TNS Call Guardian®, are also a great resource for reporting and blocking unwanted robocalls. Stay vigilant and share information about scams with others.

Jim Tyrrell is Senior Director of Product Marketing at TNS with specific responsibility for TNS’ Communications Market solutions.

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