Natrona County sheriff alerts of pet scams targeting residents

CASPER, Wyo. — Online pet scams targeting Natrona County residents have recently been reported, the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.

The scams involve people spending money to buy a pet online only to discover later the transaction was a scam, according to NCSO. Two instances have been reported by the Casper-Natrona County International Airport in the last month, NCSO said.

“Sellers are posing online as legitimate companies or breeders in an attempt to lure in individuals seeking a furry companion to add to their families,” NCSO’s press release states. “The supposed seller asks for payment for the animal up front, as well as excess fees for crates and insurance during transport.”

“Websites appear real on the surface, with photos of animals for adoption, and in some cases even offer video conferencing to meet the animal virtually. The internet scammer goes as far as providing airline flight or cargo company information for the purchased pet. It’s not until the unsuspecting buyer arrives at the airport do they realize that the pet does not exist, and, ultimately, they have been scammed.”

NCSO said there have been a variety of scams reported in the community in the past several months.

“Scammers are frequently seeking new avenues to take advantage of individuals, and are using a multitude of tactics to appear as realistic and convincing as possible,” the release states. “These scammers almost always reside in another state or country. This makes it extremely difficult if not impossible for law enforcement to identify them, locate them, and prosecute them for the crime(s) they committed.”

Across the country, the Better Business Bureau found pet scams accounted for 35% of online shopping scams in 2021, according to NCSO.

“Just like any other online purchase, think before you click,” Drew Cotton, investigator for NCSO, said. “If it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Do your research and homework on large purchases by checking company reviews on trusted sources like the Better Business Bureau.”

“Always use a secure payment method like a credit card or PayPal account that provides buyer protection. Consistently monitoring your bank and credit history is a good way to ensure you’re not being defrauded. If you find a suspicious or fraudulent transaction, immediately report it to the credit bureaus and your credit card company.”

If people do decide to purchase pets online, the NCSO shared some tips from the Better Business Bureau to help avoid scams:

• Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person.

• Conduct a reverse image search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it’s likely a fraud. You also can search for distinctive text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.

• Avoid wiring money, or using a cash app or gift card. These payment methods offer no way to get your money back if you are the victim of fraud.

• Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price; it could be a fraudulent offer.

• Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve animal stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities.

Natrona Sheriff John Harlin will participate in a fraud awareness event at the Natrona County Library from 1 to 2 pm Tuesday, May 24. People can attend that event to learn from Harlin and other members of law enforcement about how fraud is occurring in the community.

“The event is free to community members interested in learning how to protect themselves against fraud,” NCSO added.

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