Anatomy of Cameroon Pet Scam
Buying or adopting any pet online, without actually seeing it first is extremely risky, and we strongly recommend you do not do it!
Please see: Buying Pets Online.
However, people continue to do it and they risk falling for a pet scam. There are many more pet scammers out there than legitimate pet sellers so the odds are in their favor. Consequently, if you are going to gamble on buying a pet online you are more likely to encounter a scammer than a real pet seller. Be mindful of the fact that even if you are fortunate enough not to deal with a scammer and actually receive a pet, it could still be very different from that which was pictured or advertised, in poor health, without the promised registration and/or otherwise unsuitable.
This article will try to give you an overview of the pet scam, how it works, why it works, and how to avoid falling for it. Remember the pet scam is constantly changing and there are many variations of the scam which do not fit completely with or may even be substantially different from what is outlined below. Just because a situation does not match this article, that does not mean that it is not a scam. To see a collection of scam emails, addresses and phone numbers please see: Fraudwatchers / Pets and Animal Adoptions
If the "seller" or "pet shipping company" even so much as mentions Cameroon it is a scam!
Even the United States Embassy
warns about the scam. The country code of Cameroon is (237), if you receive a telephone number with that country code its a scam. Scammers will attempt to hide it by grouping the numbers a certain way such as 23 7111111. There are no
legitimate pets for sale, rehoming or adoption in Cameroon just pet scammers. For that matter there are none in West Africa which would include Nigeria, Benin, Toga, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, all nations known for advance fee scams. Don't even consider buying or adopting a pet from West Africa!
Any ad or website offering a dog for "rehoming" or "adoption" is fraud 99% of the time. Many times they claim the dog is AKC certified and pure bred yet they only want adoption and/or shipping fees. If the dog really existed, they could go to their supermarket and have the dog "rehomed" or 'adopted' in a half an hour tops!
If the seller or the "pet shipping company" even mentions payment via money transfer such as Western Union, MoneyGram, Coinstar, MoneyBookers, Liberty Reserve its a scam!
Almost every pet scammer will request payment via this method which is completely unsuitable for any online purchase as there is no consumer protection and scammers can easily receive the money and stay anonymous. It's like giving cash to a stranger and hoping he comes back with your pet. See: Western Union and MoneyGram indicate scam.
Payment via Bank to Bank transfer is only marginally better so never pay money to a stranger using that method. Don't Pay Strangers via Bank to Bank Transfer and Be Cautious Paying with PayPal
If either the "seller" or "pet delivery company" gives you a telephone and/or fax contact number that begins with +4470, +44070, or +44(0)70 its a scam!
These numbers, with or without the country code or 44 or the first 0 are called UK global redirects or personal forwarding numbers. In other words, it the scammer is targeting people in the UK, he will give you a number that begins with "70". The number is not in the UK! The phone call is forwarded to another number where the scammer really is. The cost of the call is charged to the caller and they are very expensive. Please see: +4470 numbers
Any pet shipping/delivery company using a free email address, such as hotmail.com, yahoo.com, gmail.com, rocketmail.com, live.com, etc. is a scammer, especially free email addresses chosen to match a company name, such as firstname.lastname@example.org No real company uses a free email address.
If a the seller advertises the pet in one area and then when you contact him, states that it is in a different area, for any reason, its a scam.
In the situations I note above and below, when I say its a scam, I mean its a scam, not maybe or probably or likely, I mean without exception! Immediately cease communication with the "seller", don't give them the benefit of the doubt as there isn't any! Do not be swayed by anything they say or send you such as identification, registration documents, etc. which will always be fake. The pictures of the pets are fake. Their professed Christianity is fake! It's all fake! Do not rationalize or let yourself be bullied. Scammers are successful because they are convincing and intimidating, and they will never admit they are scamming you and they are perfectly heartless.
It is up to YOU to save your emotions and your money! No one else will do it for you, not the scammers and unfortunately not Western Union, MoneyGram, Coinstar, MoneyBookers, Liberty Reserve or any other money transfer service or law enforcement. Here is what happened to a victim who saw the warning signs yet rationalized and continued the transaction. See: http://www.fraudwatchers.org/forums/...ad.php?t=47787
Google is one the most useful tools to use in avoiding any scam, including a pet scam. Google the email address of the "seller", his or her "name", his or her phone number and the name, email address and phone number of the "pet shipping company."
Many times you will find that the "seller" or "pet shipping company" has been involved in a scam which is why we post all these details.
The typical pet scam has several recognizable elements and warning signs as detailed below:
1. A Free or Cheap Pet For Rehoming?
The scam usually begins with an advertisement in a free classified online ad, on a website or in an email offering an American Kennel Club "AKC", i.e., pure bred dewormed, vaccinated, micro chipped puppy that would be worth well over $1000, for a low adoption, "rehoming" and/or shipping fee. Though puppies are the most popular, the scam also involves birds (especially parrots and macaws), monkeys, kittens, horses, reptiles and insects all offered for well-below market prices. Some of these animals wouldn't even be importable or would be subject to long quarantine! See Animal Import Procedures for Various Countries.
Some scammers have paid websites, price their "nonexistent" pets at more realistic prices and claim to be in nations other than Cameroon. It is very important to review "Identifying Obvious Scam Websites."
Many advance fee frauds targeting consumers offer unrealistically attractive prices to lure potential victims. If the victim feels the pet is a bargain, he or she, may be willing to pay for shipping and unexpected fees figuring that, even with the additional expenses, he or she is still getting a good deal.
2. Great Pet Pictures
The pictures of the pet in the ad, website or email or is very good and don't look like a picture a seller might just take with his own digital camera. The pictures are
professional pictures stolen from legitimate pet sellers' websites or other online sources. The pictures are one of the keys to the scam because many victims "fall in love" with the pet based on the pictures. This applies to persons seeking to purchase a pet as well as those seeking to adopt one in order to save it from abandonment. Even potential victims who discover they are being scammed still regret not being able to get the pet because "it" was "perfect."
3. Overly Emotional, Inquisitive and Personal Emails.
In the initial email, the "seller" will often tell a very personal story of a close relative such as an offspring or spouse, dying suddenly and/or tragically, such as by being hit by a drunk driver. Many times that relative, their offspring or spouse, was responsible for caring for the pet or the pet reminds the seller of the deceased and that is the reason he is offering the pet for such a small amount. Another variation, is that they have had to travel to Cameroon (most pet scammers operate out of Cameroon) or somewhere else for some noble or humanitarian cause, such as UNICEF, Doctor's Without Borders. Peace Corp., World Health Organization or military duty and they have found that the weather is too harsh for the puppy and that is why they are offering the pet for adoption at such a low fee. There are countless variations on this theme and it may also be absent.
The "seller" may also profess to be a staunch Christian, to be a married family man or woman and will frequently pepper his emails with religious references. This emotional "sharing" is designed to make the "seller" appear reputable and remove any inkling that this might be a scam from the mind of the victim who is going to be faced with many questionable conditions and will have to be trusting. The first email also asks a lot of questions so that the "buyer" can appear to care more about the pet's welfare than money which gives another reason for the pet's low price. The "seller" also wants to know the victim's location. It is not normal for a seller to share so many aspects of his or personal life when merely selling a pet.
4. The Seller's Location Changes
Though the ad indicated the pet was in one location, and it might have been placed only days ago, the "seller" now indicates that he or she are in a different location far away from the "buyer." Many times, the "seller" will not reveal his location until he knows where the victim is. That way he can be far enough away so the victim cannot see the pet and must pay to ship it. If asked, the scammer offers various reason for this sudden change of location including that he was called away suddenly to Cameroon or he advertised the puppy in the U.S. because he wanted it to have a U.S. owner. If the victim insists that he or she or a friend are in the same location as the scammer and insist on visiting the pet the scammer will lose interest. Some scammers claim to be in Alaska or Hawaii since those locations are obviously remote and there is less chance that a "buyer" would be there to see the pet.
5. Bad grammar, Spelling, Punctuation and Unfamiliar Phrasing.
Most pet scammers are from Cameroon and other West African nations and they lack basic English skills. They stick to "scripts" especially in the first or second emails which is why their emails are so uniform. However, when they are forced to improvise in response to specific questions or circumstances they will be uncomfortable with the written word. They might ignore questions and send the same email again. They may use specific terms which are particular to West Africa, such as hoping to "read" from you instead of "hear" from you. They may call you "dear." They may refer to the pets as "babies." The "pet delivery company' frequently says "stay and enjoy our services" They have poor grammar, spelling and punctuation. They will write in capital letters. On the telephone they speak with thick accents, mispronounce common words and can be difficult to understand.
6. "Adoption Papers"
The next phase of the scam, thought it might be skipped, is the change of ownership or adoption papers. There may be a separate fee for this, but the actual intent is make sure that the pet is in the victim's name to give the victim a sense of responsibility for the pet's well being, and thus, he or she is more likely to pay for items to ensure its comfort and ultimate arrival. Also, when the victim suspects they are being scammed and balks at any payments, the scammer can threaten the victim with prosecution for animal cruelty or abandonment since of course the pet now "belongs" to them. In real life there is no "adoption" necessary when a pet is sold or adopted. If you get a dog's license, and you should, you would simply register your name with the governing agency giving you the dog tag.
7. "Pet Shipping Company"
The most important phase, because that is usually where the advanced fees are collected, is the shipping of the pet which is done by a "pet shipping company" which is another scammer or the same one. Now, some "sellers" will request that the victim pay them and they will pay the "shipper". The "shipper" will come into play though, because the delivery of the pet will always hit a snag, and the shipper will request more costs or fees. The "seller" will act as if they have no stake in the charges made by the "shipper" and will even profess surprise at the added costs and even offer to "pay" some portion if a victim balks.
No Real Shipper Uses a Free Email Address
Any "pet shipping company" using a free email address indicates a scam. Legitimate companies do not use free email addresses!
Request for Payment via Money Transfer or PayPal or Bank to Bank (T/T) Transfer Indicate a Scam
The "seller" and "shipping company" almost always requests payment via Western Union/Money Gram and many times the "recipient" is in Cameroon. Again, any
request for payment via Western Union/MoneyGram/Coinstar indicates a scam!!! See Western Union/MoneyGram Indicate Scam.
Requests for payment via PayPal and Bank to Bank (T/T) transfer also indicate a scam. Please see http://www.fraudwatchers.org/forums/...ad.php?t=49538
Pet delivery is a "service" even when their is no pet to deliver so PayPal will not reimburse you when you are defrauded.
The scammers will say they accept credit cards, however, they can't accept them right now because they are under audit, or they only accept credit cards for a sum which is higher than the shipping fees, or something other reason they can think of and those reasons or endless. All legitimate pet shippers accept credit cards and that is the only safe way to pay for an online transaction. Many fraudulent "pet shipping company" websites have phishing forms which steal your credit card information. Never enter your credit card information on an online payment page unless you are absolutely sure
that the shipper is legitimate!!!
There are basically three tactics the scammers take with the shipping company:
(a) They impersonate an actual shipping company even giving the victim the website of that company. However, the email address and any telephone numbers they give the victim will be different. The email address will be a free or public email address. If you were to scrutinize the website of the company they give you, you would notice this discrepancy. Unfortunately, some legitimate pet shipping websites do not have contact information.
(b) They don't profess to have a website and just send an email written as if it were from a real pet shipping company. Many times the text will be copied from a legitimate pet shipper's website. The name of the shipping company might be similar to a legitimate pet shipper's name, including images, and the email address will mimic it as well, however, they will always use free or public email address.
They make very liberal use of mail.com free email addresses since these tend to look official. See: Free Mail.Com email addresses loved by scammers. All legitimate pet shippers have websites!
(c) They point the victim to a fraudulent website which is put up by the scammer. Most of these websites are on free website/sub-domains and appear very amateurish. However, they can be on paid domains and be more sophisticated. It is important to review: Identifying Obvious Scam Websites
. Most of these fake sites claim to be members of IPATA and by referring to IPATA's website
you can check for yourself.
8. Further Fees
If a victim falls for the scam and sends the shipping fee, as with most advance fee scams, the scam is not over. There will be further requests for money. The possible fake charges are only limited by the scammers' imagination. There are charges for better cages, extra food, vet examinations, insurance, etc. The scammer will tell you that some of these fees are refundable. This is of course to entice you to pay them. Any money you send to a scammer will be gone. As long as the victim continues to pay charges the scammers will invent more charges. Sometimes, the puppy dies and the scammer will offer you compensation, however, they will want you to pay some additional fee. Refundable insurance is a favorite one because its generally about $400 to $500. Insurance companies charge a premium for undertaking the risk and they don't refund that when they don't have to pay a claim or they would never be profitable. At this stage some victims, inasmuch as they have already paid the shipping fee, are "invested" in a positive outcome. However, the only thing worse that being scammed is being scammed again! Any money you will supposedly get back will require you to pay more money and this could, and has spiraled out of control, so that victims, instead of just losing the shipping fees, end up losing thousands of dollars!
As aforementioned, the scammer or "catcher" who sold the pet always professes ignorance of these extra charges and if the victim balks at the full cost they will offer to "pitch" in and pay a portion.
9. Persistence, Denials of Scam, and Threats of Prosecution
At some point, even the most trusting victim will realize or suspect that they are being scammed and will refuse to pay more charges. Scammers are very persistent and pet scammers are no different. They will ignore even overwhelming evidence that they are scamming you and will never admit it never!
They will persist in calling you and emailing you and, they will even threaten you with prosecution for cruelty to the animal because, by not paying some fee, you will have abandoned it and of course "its" in your name. Obviously, you can't be prosecuted for abandoning a non-existent pet. Moreover, they are in Cameroon or another country in West Africa, and those countries don't have legal jurisdiction over you.
10. Recovery Scam
Many times, persons who fall victim to a pet scam will be contacted by the same or another scammer pretending to be a lawyer or law enforcement officer who offers to get the victim's money back. However, the victim will be expected to pay for subpoenas, or court costs, or some similar costs, usually by Western Union/MoneyGram. Obviously, if you receive such an email it should be ignored.
11. It's Extremely Difficult to Prosecute a Scammer
It is important to realize that it is almost impossible to prosecute these scammers. They use free email addresses, pre-paid mobile telephones, Western Union/MoneyGram/Coinstar, free hosted websites and aliases so its extremely difficult to identify them. Even if you could identify them, they are in a different country beyond the legal jurisdiction of the country the victim is in. The countries where the scammer reside, mainly Cameroon and other West African nations, do not have the resources or the inclination to prosecute them. The best method of defeating them is to post the text of their emails, the email addresses, telephone numbers, and money transfer receiver information they use. This is searchable on Google and warns away potential victims who are diligent enough to perform a search before they part with their money. You can and should file a Internet Crime Complaint
but it will not stop the scam or get your money back. You can also alert the Cameroon Authorities