Whether it’s a fake advertisement for a dog or a call for fundraising, pet-related scams are on the rise.
Last week, Lisa Janes, the manager of humane services at the City of St. John’s Animal Care and Adoption Centre, was asked about an injured dog that didn’t exist.
A Facebook post about the dog in question was shared by her daughter. It claimed a dog was hit by a car in St. John’s, and since Janes works at a shelter that looks after many of the city’s dogs, she wanted an update.
“All her friends were worried about this poor dog and asked her to ask me about it,” she said. “And there was no such thing, it was not true. When I looked at it, that was shared hundreds of times.”
Janes doesn’t know what the purpose of the post was, but she says she could tell it was a definite scam.
Dog-related scams are nothing new, but lately there’s been an increase on social media. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Kaiden Dalley paid a deposit for a new husky puppy. Three years later, he hasn’t seen a trace of that dog, or that money.
Everything looked right to Dalley. The seller claimed to be based in Port Blandford, they offered to accept a cash deposit, and there were multiple photos of a fluffy, grey husky puppy with eyes that were hard to resist.
Dalley did some background research to make sure the seller was legitimate before sending any money. He also did a reverse image search of the puppies, which yielded no results.
It was a perfect fit, until the online exchanges went dark.
“So, I sent the money,” said Dalley. “I think it was $250, and the rest would be paid in person. We pull up to the driveway and go knock on the door. The person who answers is like, ‘we have no idea what you’re talking about.’”
The money was deposited, and all forms of contact and the seller vanished. His emails were bouncing back, and his phone calls went straight to voicemail. Dalley says $250 wasn’t an outrageous loss, but he doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else.
Janes has seen the long-term effect of pet scams in her work at the Animal Care and Adoption Centre.
“I do think that people getting scammed online really puts a bad taste in their mouth.
“They don’t want to reach out and talk to anyone at a shelter because they don’t want to get upset or to get hurt or to miss out, you know. It’s really put a damper on adoptions in general,” Janes said.
Brian Kidney is an instructor for the systems and network cybersecurity program at College of the North Atlantic. He says pet-related scams are often a form of social engineering, which use human emotion to gain personal information or money.
“If it’s too good to be true, it isn’t true,” Kidney said.
Kidney says it’s important to research before spending any money online, and to avoid unverified platforms such as GoFundMe for donations for injured animals, for example.
“If somebody is looking for money, reach out to any one of the animal care groups in the area. Often when these things are real, they will go to the press to try and boost their case.”
It took Dalley some time before he was able to continue his search for a puppy, and he eventually passed the task on to a family member. He says it’s important to do due diligence and go through proper channels – like animal shelters – to avoid getting scammed out of a pet.
Eventually, Dalley found a Labrador puppy and named it Squid.
While Squid may have found a home, back at the city-owned shelter 65 animals are under its care, according to Janes. She considers that a low number, but adoption rates have been high since Jan. 2023. About 370 animals have been adopted since then, and social media plays a big role in that, despite the prevalence of scam artists.
“We post all of our dogs on our Facebook page because they get the most shares,” said Janes. “I posted a beagle a couple of weeks ago, and I think he got like 240 shares.”
While she was sad to see him go, she was happy the little fella found a home.
“We had him in the shelter for months. He was the best dog and it took a post on Facebook to get him a home.”