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Desperate times, devious crimes - Pet scammers prey on vulnerable owners

Palm Beach County warns of scam targeting lost pet owners

Losing a beloved pet is a heart-wrenching experience. In their desperation to find their furry companions, owners often turn to online resources and social media, unknowingly leaving themselves vulnerable to heartless scammers. Palm Beach County officials are raising awareness of a disturbing new pet scam targeting these vulnerable owners.

Social media posts provide a hunting ground for scammers

Statistics reveal that one in three pets go missing in their lifetime. In their frantic search for their lost companions, owners frequently post detailed information online, including photos, descriptions, and potentially even contact information that scammers can potentially use.

Unfortunately, these online pleas for help can be seen by more than just concerned citizens. Scammers are actively scouring platforms like Petco Love Lost, Pawboost, local Facebook groups, and NextDoor, searching for desperate pet owners to exploit.

The scam unfolds when individuals posing as animal control representatives contact these distressed pet owners. Using information gleaned from social media posts, scammers claim to have found the missing pet, often embellishing the story by stating the animal is injured and requires immediate medical attention. Preying on the owner's emotions, scammers demand immediate payment for veterinary care, pressuring them to send money electronically.

A lost dog poster featuring a photo of a missing dog, contact information, and a plea for help in finding the beloved pet.

Officials urge caution and collaboration

Palm Beach County's Animal Care and Control (ACC) department has warned residents strongly, urging them to exercise caution when receiving calls about their lost pets. The ACC has received reports of multiple scams, highlighting the prevalence of this deceptive practice. The ACC advised residents, via their Facebook page, to refrain from transferring funds or sharing account/credit card numbers with anyone claiming to represent them.

While the scam has yet to be reported in Broward County, local officials are taking a proactive stance. The Broward County Sheriff's Office and the Broward Animal Care Division advise residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicious calls claiming to have found a lost pet in exchange for money because they are likely to be scammers. They recommend hanging up immediately on such calls, contacting 911 to report the incident, and notifying the agency where the pet is listed as missing.

The Broward County Animal Care and Adoption Center strongly encouraged pet owners to microchip their animals as a preventative measure. In a statement, the Center explained that microchipping is a minimally invasive procedure, often offered for low or no cost. They further elaborated that it allows veterinarians and shelters to electronically identify pets, significantly increasing the chances of reuniting them with their owners.

How Microchipping Works?

Microchipping entails inserting a tiny chip, about the size of a grain of rice, between the shoulder blades of a dog or cat. This permanent form of identification emits a unique radio frequency signal when scanned, allowing animal shelters and veterinarians to retrieve the owner's contact information stored in a national database.

Veterinarians emphasized the safety and ease of microchipping. Dr. David Shapiro, a veterinarian at the Broward County Pet Care Clinic, said that it's a quick procedure similar to a vaccination. He further explained that the procedure is very safe and complications are rare. While acknowledging the always-present potential for infection, Dr. Shapiro reassured pet owners by stating that with the thousands of microchipping procedures they perform yearly, it rarely occurs.

According to Dr. Shapiro, registering the microchip is just as important as the implantation itself. Microchip registration ensures that the owner's contact information is readily available when the chip is scanned. Without registration, a scanner will only pick up a random code, rendering the chip ineffective. Microchips are available for purchase at animal care facilities in both Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

Both Palm Beach County's Animal Care and Control and Broward County's Animal Care and Adoption Center emphasize that they will never contact pet owners by phone and request monetary contributions. Residents are advised to remain vigilant and report any suspicious calls claiming otherwise.

For victims of financial scams, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Volunteers Against Scams Team offers support. The team provides preventive advice and assists those affected by identity theft, fraud, and other financial crimes. Residents seeking more information can contact the Community Services Office at 561-688-3970.

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