In reality, Summers says, reputable shelters never offer to ship puppies to people they haven't met, and will rarely solicit people by email with such offers. They will ask potential adopters to come to their facility to meet the pet.
If you follow up on the bogus offers, you'll get requests for fee after fee until, like Goss, you wise up. The scammers (who appear usually to be in Africa, particularly Cameroon) may even threaten you with physical harm unless more money is paid. Or they may sell your contact info to other con men for other schemes.
How to protect yourself
Anyone who has looked for a pet knows that it's easy for emotions to overwhelm practicality. Here are six red flags to watch out for:
- You'll want to gauge the pup's personality — as well as ensure it exists. So visit the local SPCA for pets needing homes or find breeders or breed-specific rescues by typing the breed name and your ZIP code into an online search engine.
- If you're placing an ad seeking a pet, ignore responses from anyone who won't provide a local phone number and verifiable address.
- Don't trust any seller who claims to be overseas on a noble mission, such as volunteering at an orphanage or serving as a missionary.
- Be suspicious of any email correspondence that comes via free services such as Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail. Goss wired money for shipping fees to a self-described manager at Kenya Airlines who had a Hotmail address.
- Beware of form-letter emails that don't include your name or other specific info. Clicking on links that offer photos of pets could infect your computer with a virus.
- Never, never wire money.
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Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.