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Lost animal scam targets worried pet owners

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - The Better Business Bureau is warning people about a lost pet text message scam. Posting on social media is a great way to let people know about a lost pet. Unfortunately, that same publicity can put you at risk for scams. Con artists comb social posts to find targets who have lost their beloved pets.

The scam works like this: People who have lost a pet turn to social media to alert friends and neighbors. They create a public post – or even a group – to help spread the word, sharing a phone number and other details, so people can easily reach them.

A few days later, you get a text message from someone claiming to have found your lost dog or cat. You ask them to describe your pet and/or send a photo, but the conversation quickly takes a strange turn. The scammer will give excuses, such as being out of town or not having a working smartphone, for why they can't snap a photo. Instead, the person will pressure you for money (or a gift card) to return your pet. Although you may be tempted to do anything to see your dog or cat returned safely, don't pay up! The scammer doesn't have your pet. They will just take the money and disappear.

To avoid this scam, the Better Business Bureau recommends limiting the information in your social posts. If you post on Facebook or other social media, omit information about unique physical attributes. This can help you verify if someone really found your pet.

Also, watch for spoofed numbers. If you get a call from someone claiming to have your pet, ask them for a phone number where you can call them back. Scammers often spoof phone numbers, so they appear to be calling from somewhere else.

Ask for a photo. If a caller claims to have your pet in their possession, ask them to send a current picture. If the "finder" gets defensive or makes a lot of excuses, it's a red flag.

Never wire money or use a prepaid debit card to pay anyone you don't know. This is the same as sending cash.

Finally, microchip and/or ID tag your pet. Consider having your veterinarian microchip your pet, or make sure they always wear a collar and ID tag.