CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Spot the signs and shut down Utah pet scammers

Sep 21, 2023, 6:00 PM

Imgae of dog being cuddled by family members. A Utah animal shelter is warning about a scam where p...

FILE: Pet owners should be aware of a scam that has people calling those who've posted lost pets on Facebook pages. (Stock photo via Deseret News)

(Stock photo via Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Holding someone’s missing pet for ransom, even though the scammers don’t actually have the animal. It’s a scam that’s happening in Utah.

A St. George man’s beloved cat, George, has gone missing. He posted his phone number to several local pet Facebook pages. A person called to say George had been found, but he needed to be treated by a veterinarian. 

“They said they needed $200. They said, ‘It’s $60 for this, $80 for that and it was $35 for this,’ and you know it sounded pretty legitimate,” he said as reported by KSL.TV

An animal shelter supervisor spoke with KSL NewsRadio, and has some advice for lost-pet owners on how to spot the signs of a scam.

 

Pet scammers

St. George Animal Services Supervisor Kathy Fritas said several people who called the shelter on Tuesday believed their lost pets were being held there.

She said the scammers find the phone numbers of people with lost pets from Facebook pages about missing local animals.

They call the owner and say their pet is at the animal shelter, but they will need to pay the vet bill before the animal can be released.

When the owner asks for proof of their missing pet, such as a picture, Fritas said the scammers stop answering questions.

When the owner of the missing pet calls the shelter to confirm their pet is there, Fritas says that is when they are told about the scam.

Bank shuts scammer down

In at least in one instance a bank stopped the scam before money was exchanged.

Fritas said a resident wanted to meet the scammer in person and pay cash for the safe return of her pet. The scammer said he couldn’t accept cash but could do an electronic payment instead. She attempted to do that, Fritas said, but her bank recognized it as fraud and stopped the payment.

“It’s an emotional time for the pet owner: their pet has been found, but it’s injured. It’s hard in the moment to think clearly under those pressures,” Fritas said.

She advised the owners of lost pets that if they get a phone call about their pet that doesn’t sound legitimate (for instance, the caller refuses to provide a photo) hang up.

Finally, Fritas said shelters will receive pets needing medical attention. And while the owner is responsible for paying the shelter, an animal will not be held because of an outstanding veterinary bill.

Related:

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Spot the signs and shut down Utah pet scammers