A Pet Sitting Scam???
See also: the Scam Museum - now includes checks from scammers!
Scam´mer: a person who swindles you by means of deception or fraud
Many people have heard of the more common scams in the world, and most have received their own share of "You've won the lottery" of a foreign country emails.
However, many new pet sitters don't realize how common it is for scammers to target specific industries with their online scams. Pet Sitting / Dog Walking is definitely one of those industries, and once a new sitter lists an email address on any website (including their own business website), it becomes only a matter of time before they will be targeted by a scammer.
The good news is that scams only work if you fall for them.
How The Pet Sitting Scam Works
The most common pet sitting scam is an overpayment scam. There may be many variations.
As a second aspect of the same scam, the scammer may request "errand" services like 'opening mail' and 'sending gifts' from other pet sitters- as a way to pass the overpayments through a local address to the other scammed dog walkers and pet sitters.
The scam starts with a scammer inquiring about pet sitter services, often specifically dog walking services. Or the scammer may offer to give away an animal (often a dog), or may claim to be wanting to buy an animal (mistaking pet sitters for dog breeders).
When a pet sitter responds, an offer is made by the scammer to send payment for services or goods by Money Order, often from some type of "business" the scammer claims to work for, or a government "embassy".
The amount of the Money Order will be written for more than the amount needed, and the recipient is to send the extra on to a 3rd party.
The Money Orders are fraudulent. However, many banks will still cash the Money Order and place the funds into the pet sitters account within a few days. However, usually within a month, the Money Order is returned as fraudulent, and the bank will withdraw the money from the pet sitter's account. The bank may also charge extra fees, and may pursue the sitter with criminal charges for cashing a fake check.
By that time, the pet sitter has often thought that since the bank cashed the check, it was good - and they've already sent legitimate funds back to the scammer, often using western union. Usually the scammer is long gone with the money by this time.
The scammer also separately requests "errand" services from other pet sitters. The fraudulent checks are sent first to these pet sitters, who repackage them and forward them on to you. This gives the mail a local (U.S.) envelop and stamp instead of the original Nigeria labels - making the check look more legit.
This sitter is usually paid with a fraudulent check also. And since mail fraud is a federal offense, this sitter can be in serious legal trouble for mailing a fraudulent check - even though they didn't know it was all a scam.
How Scammers Find Their Targets
Many scammers use software that scours the internet for pages that have certain key phrases, such as Pet Sitter, Dog Walker, Pet Nanny, and Pet Care. The programs catalog any and all email addresses listed on these pages. Pet sitter directories are especially popular.
Once a list is made, the scam is sent out to every email on the list. There can be hundreds or thousands of emails on each list. It only takes one or two gullible pet sitters to make it worthwhile.
How to Spot A Scam
Scammers change their tactics daily to make their scams better and more noticeable. So there is no guaranteed way to spot a scam. However, there are some individual current key factors that should raise your suspicions:
When you first read the email, it sounds like a terrific opportunity. The scammers count on pet sitters (especially newbies) being so excited by the request, that they turn off their normal "too good to be true" sensors.
The "To: " address on the email messages is not your email address. A real client will generally find your email address on a website, and send email directly to that account. If the "To: " is blank, or the same as the "From: ", or has some nickname for you, that is less likely to be from a client.
The client is traveling to your location from outside the U.S. This is very rare. A survey on the message board found that so far, no sitters have received a legitimate request of this nature.
The client plans to write a payment for more than they owe you, and you are to send the extra elsewhere. Clients just never do this. Nor should you ever let them!
The clients says you have to wait for payment for services because the business they work for is going to write out and mail you a check directly. It is true that some businesses will cut checks for pet sitting services. However, this is rare - so it should raise a red flag for you. And it is more common for the client to get reimbursed than the business to pay the service directly. A business will certainly not pay extra directly to you to send on to somewhere else.
Scammers tend to start from the perspective that all they have to do is contact you to get you booked. So their messages start "I will be needing your dog walking services" and ask for nothing but a price quote.
Real clients tend to start with "I'm interested in learning more about your business" and then follow up with some questions. They often will feel you out before jumping in.
The message is from a Yahoo user. That in itself is not a sign that it's a scam, but many scammers do use Yahoo for some reason.
The IP is from Nigeria or another foreign country. If you are a bit computer savvy, you can find the sender's IP in the headers and look it up at a service such as AllNetTools to see the originating country of the email.
Requested vacations are very long (such as a month). And time requests are longer than average sits lengths. Plus, the times are very flexible.
Punctuation is poor, and the English is questionable.
The sender has a very odd name. Sometimes the last name may actually be a common first name.
They may use terms like "Soonest", "Regards", "God".
They may offer to call you, or insist that you call them. Scammers get a hold of used cell phones, and will often offer phone contact in order to convince you that they are good people with a legitimate service need.
When asked for a picture of their pets, they will send you a picture of a show dog (usually found on Google images).
They may keep trying to snag you, even if you start to question them. Some will go as far as still trying to scam you after you've told them you've been contacted by the FBI.
Note: As soon as the scammers read this list, they will likely change their scams to avoid these things.
About The Scammers
Online Scammers in Nigeria and other countries are not often like the rich offline scammers you hear about on the news in the U.S.
Overseas scammers often come from very poor areas. They are trained to do scams very efficiently. For many, this is their FULL time job. They sit in internet cafes all day long, and they are very good at smooth-talking victims after a victim takes the first bait.
Responding that you know it is a scam, or other excuses why you can't help them will not impress the scammers. They have thousands of other scams out there to manage and people to write back to, so they will just ignore your response if it's not promising.
How To Avoid Getting Scammed
Trust your instinct from the first instant.
Never accept overpayment for pet sitting with the expectation to send some of it on to somewhere else.
Never offer your birthdate, SSN, username, bank, or other private information to anyone online. Especially if they are asking you to "confirm" something for security reasons.
Never click a link provided in an email message.
See if others have already received the same (or a very similar) email message.
Read through previous scams to get a feel for how the messages work.
See the live scam forum and read actual scam emails in the Scam Museum on the PUPS Forums Public Area.