BEND, OR -- A new scam has emerged targeting pet owners whose animals are missing. "People who have lost their pets are so vulnerable," says Lynne Ouchida, with the Humane Society of Central Oregon. At least five people received calls this week from someone claiming to be from HSCO's Bend shelter, asking for payment over the phone to cover emergency surgery for their pet that was just brought in seriously injured. Ouchida says, "They appear to be victims who have lost their pet a while ago. So of course, there’s always that lingering hope that their pet might be found."
The calls were clustered within a two-hour timeframe Wednesday evening, "They’re timing it so that maybe we do close and they can make these calls and people can’t call to verify whether or not the animal is here." In one case, the husband immediately called the shelter, "The wife was talking to the scammer on speaker phone, so our staff member actually heard that it sounded like a young male, could hear that they were using broad, general medical terms that 'the dog is suffering from nerve damage, broken bones, hips'," Ouchida tells KBND News, "So that’s what the alarming and sad thing about this was, it could be believable."
Shelter staff also noticed red flags when the victims called to verify their pet was at the HSCO facility, "When people said they want to speak to our male manager; well, we don’t have any male managers here, right now. So it was pretty easy to say 'no, it wasn’t from us.' Also, at that point in time, our veterinarian had gone home, so we could also tell them that." Ouchida says the shelter will never ask for payment over the phone, especially by gift card or mobile app.
Ouchida believes lost and found pet pages on social media make it easier for scammers to target victims, because people post their phone number, location, pet’s description and often a photo - all data a scammer can use to contact a pet owner and sound legitimate. "People are relying on social media to post lost and found animals, and they’re forgetting that important step of reporting it to their local shelter," says Ouchida, "People - if they find an animal, they’re going to call us. If you lose an animal, you should call us." She says shelters work confidentially to reunite lost pets with their owners. And, if your animal is microchipped or has ID tags, it makes that process even easier.