Avoiding Cat Scammers
The unfortunate truth is that there are dishonest people out there pretending to be cat breeders and who scam people who want to adopt a kitten. We provide several good ways of avoiding cat scammers here. What are the key indicators that you are at risk of being scammed?
The info below is very detailed, and it isn’t casual reading. But these are powerful tools for avoiding cat scammers.
Cat scammers are not cat breeders. Breeding good quality purebred kittens is way too much work and requires too much supporting infrastructure. Cat scammers are just fraudulent people out to make fast money on unsuspecting buyers. Cat scammers do not have any kittens or cats to sell. They just have a website with photos of cats. That’s all.
Frequently cat scammers are not even located in the United States. They make a website that looks like it is US based, but instead it may be a foreign-registered website.
Read on for several great ways to identify cat scammers and avoid being their next victim.
Avoiding Cat Scammers: The most powerful questions you should ask yourself
Why did they say that?
Why do they require that?
Why won’t they tell me where they are located?
Why won’t they accept cash payments in person?
Why don’t they want me to pick up the kitten in person?
Why do they offer shipping or delivery costs that are absurdly low?
Why are they asking me to pay the deposit by showing them photos of a gift card?
Why are all of the photos on their website showing kittens with different backgrounds?
Why do some of the photos on their website have watermarks that don’t match the name of the cattery?
Why are more than a dozen kittens offered on their website all listed as having the same age?
Why? That is the most powerful question you can ask to avoid being scammed. (And “Why not?” of course.)
Red Flags on the Website
Mistakes and Typos on their Website
In all fairness, any legitimate breeder can accidently have mistakes on their website, typos, or other glitches. One or two red flag mistakes (while unfortunate) are not necessarily enough to “convict” someone as being a scammer.
- Look first at the website. Are there any suspicious “red flags”?
- If you see things that don’t feel right with the website itself, proceed with caution while looking for more red flags.
- Communicate with the person about the kitten. Do more red flags appear? Be very careful.
- Discuss pickup/delivery and payment. If the red flags continue to appear, you can be pretty sure that you are dealing with a cat scammer.
If you believe you have identified a scam website, please contact us and let us know. We will check it out and see whether there are any red flags or show stoppers.
Check with TICA and CFA to see if their cattery is listed.
Reporting Cat Scam fraud: Read more.
Look at the photos of their “Available Kittens”
Do the photos have some consistency between each kitten?
Does it look like each photo was taken by the same person?
Different Backgrounds for each Kitten
Look at the example at this example from a scam website. The photos were taken with a wide variety of backgrounds, varying photographic quality, and a range of artistic intent. That’s a red flag.
Why would a breeder do that? Most breeders who care about their cats and kittens want to show them all in the best possible way. They aren’t going to go to great efforts with some kittens to take elaborately staged photos and for other kittens just slap up plain photos.
Breeders have real, live kittens, and they can take real, live photos. Their photos tend to have identifiable consistency. With a real breeder, you can tell that the same person took the photos of each kitten in the same circumstances with the same lighting.
Scammers can’t take their own photos because they don’t have any kittens. They simply steal photos from other people’s websites. As a result, the photos often don’t match or lack consistency. This is not a virtue. It is a red flag.
Sometimes scammers steal photos with watermarks
Do the photos have watermarks? Are watermarks lacking on some photos?
Do the watermarks match the website name or cattery name?
Some scam websites are so careless that they steal photos with watermarks from legitimate breeder websites. The watermark doesn’t match the name of the scam website. That’s a red flag.
Credible breeders should watermark their photos to make it more difficult for scammers to use their photos on scam websites.
Signs that photos were clipped from other websites
Look very closely at this example from a scam website. Do you see the dark lines on the top and bottom of the photos? That happens when someone uses the clip tool and copies a photo from a website with a background color that is different from the photo (a black background in this example). The scammer did a sloppy job of clipping the photo. They didn’t crop the photo properly to remove the black edge from the original source website. That’s a red flag.
Why did they do a sloppy job with their photo editing? Because they don’t care. They don’t have a passion for kittens they don’t raise. They just want to separate you from your money.
How many photos do they have of each kitten?
Scammers don’t have kittens they can photograph. They must therefore steal their pictures from other websites. This limits the number of photos they can post on their own website. If there is only one photo of each kitten, this would be a red flag.
Ask the person to take a custom photo or video for you:
- Email them a photo of you or a simple hand-drawn sketch.
- Ask them to print the photo or sketch and take a picture or video of the kitten with the printed photo next to the kitten.
A scammer can’t do this, because they don’t have kittens. This isn’t just a red flag – it is a show stopper.
A legitimate breeder will be willing to take a photo for you to give you confidence that they are genuine.
If you think you might be dealing with a scammer, then just wait. If they are legitimate, their website should change to reflect kittens being sold and new litters being added.
If you return to their website several weeks later to find the same kittens listed with the same ages, this is probably a red flag scam. Try emailing them with a different email address and ask two questions:
- Is your website up to date
- What are the ages of your kittens.
Scammers will believe that you are a new prospect and will tell you that the website is current and that the listed ages are accurate. They won’t know that you saw the same information a while back, with kittens that have not aged.
How can I tell whether the website is registered outside the US?
This part is a bit technical, but it can give you very interesting insight.
People living in foreign countries can register “.com” websites just like we can. However, they most often use a “registrar” company that is outside the US to register their domain name.
You can find out the registrar like this:
Use the “WHOIS” link at domain name registrar websites and enter the domain name of the website:
Read through the text on the page regarding the registration details of their domain name. If you see references to foreign countries, or if you see website addresses in that text that end with 2-letter country codes, these are pretty good indicators that the owners of the website are foreign based. This would probably be a show-stopper. How could you pick up a cat from someone in another country?
The text details about each kitten can raise red flags
How many kittens are offered for adoption? Is it more than a single litter (4 to 7)? What are the ages of the kittens?
- The image above is from a scam website offering 9 kittens for sale. All of the kittens are 10 weeks old.
- Why? What are the chances of that happening? That’s a red flag.
Are there significant misspellings in the text?
- In the image above showing 9 kittens, the one in the lower right is named “Zeus” except that they misspelled the name “Zues”. Everyone can have typos – we understand. But watch out for typos in important text.
Are the text descriptions remarkably similar? That’s a red flag.
- It is much easier for a scammer to just copy/paste text.
- A scammer can’t possibly describe the uniquenesses of each kitten, because they don’t have any kittens.
- Scammers don’t care about the kittens or you. They just want your money.
If you truly suspect that you are dealing with a scammer, ask the person for details about specific kittens. For example:
- When was the kitten born?
- How many kittens were in the litter?
- What are the names of the Sire and Dam?
- How long have you had the Sire and Dam?
- When were the first vaccinations given?
- When do you wean the kittens?
Throw an occasional silly question into the mix. A scammer may not recognize the silliness and their answer might be telling. A legitimate breeder will either find it humorous or may give you a good answer to the question. For example:
- What is the kitten’s favorite toy?
- What tricks have you trained the kitten to do?
Ask the person about the typos. A legitimate breeder will appreciate the opportunity to correct the website. A scammer (especially someone outside the US) might not recognize the misspelling.
If it is too good to be true, it probably is a fraud
The age-old adage is certainly applicable here.
- Is the price of the kitten amazingly low? Why?
- Is the cost to ship the kitten to you a surprisingly great deal? Why? How could someone possibly ship a kitten across the country for $100?
Because they want people to suspend disbelief to get such a great deal. It isn’t true. It is a scam.
Rock-bottom prices with high cost features
How could a breeder offer extraordinary low prices and yet include microchipping on every kitten? In the example image above, all 9 cats are listed as being microchipped, and yet the cost of microchipping is more than 10% of the listed cost of the kitten. That’s a red flag.
How could a breeder afford professional photography (a couple hundred dollars per kitten) and then offer the cat for sale for $500? That’s a red flag.
Red Flags communicating with the person
Talk with the person on the phone
If a person is reluctant to speak with you on the phone, but instead insists that the conversation be only via email or texting, that’s a red flag.
You will be able to get a good feel for the credibility of a person when you hear them speak and communicate with you.
Email is an important way to communicate key details so that they aren’t forgotten. This is reasonable. However also speaking via a phone call gives you the chance to get a feel for the tone, courtesy and professionalism that a legitimate breeder will display.
Look carefully at the text you receive in emails from the person.
- Are they answering your questions? Why not?
- Are they cutting and pasting old text from other messages? Is the word-wrap strangely formatted? In other words, do sentences get broken from one line to the next line of text? This is a sign that the person is just cutting and pasting text from previous messages. They aren’t actually writing responses to your questions. Why not?
- Do they ask the same question twice?
- Do they respond with text or questions that are clumsily worded?
- Do they push information at you that you don’t need, without answering questions you asked?
These are all red flags. Frequently scammers live in foreign countries and may not have fluent command of the English language.
Of course, there are also legitimate breeders who may be the first generation in their family living in the United States. Their language skills may be less than perfect, and they deserve our patience and kindness as they do their best to communicate.
As you communicate further with the person, ask detailed questions about the kitten or kittens that interest you. Ask deeper questions about caring for a kitten. Ask for their opinion about best practices.
- Do they respond without providing any worthwhile information?
- Do you get conflicting information from the person?
- Do things they say in their emails that conflict with text on their website?
- Especially when discussing costs for the kitten or delivery, does the person offer lower total prices in the email than what their website says?
These can all be red flags. Some scammers will say anything to get you to make a deposit, after which you may never hear from them again.
If they ask questions that purport to verify whether you will provide a good enough home for “their kittens” try responding with answers that are not “good” and/or lack actionable information.
- What is your occupation? At best this question is irrelevant. At worst, it is offensive – it is none of their business. It only serves to give scammers insight into whether they think they can shake you down. Perhaps consider responding with “unemployed” or “student”.
- Do you have kids? Again, this is irrelevant. Are children a threat to “their kitten”. Does the lack of children mean you will take better care of “their kitten”? Consider responding with a simple “yes” or “no” but without offering any details about age or gender.
- Are you gone to work all day? The implication here is that they expect you to be home to take care of “their kitten.” Be careful here: scammers will probably have your address and might like to know if your home is unoccupied during the day. Tell them “I work at home.”
After you respond to their questions, watch their next response to see how they assess your answers and whether you meet their qualifications requirements to be worthy of adopting “their kitten.”
Scammers don’t really care what your answers are. They don’t care about your needs or circumstances. They just want your money, and they will “approve” no matter what responses you give them.
Legitimate breeders don’t ask irrelevant or offensive questions under the guise of assessing your worthiness from their noble seat upon a high pedestal. Instead, their inquiries will be focused on understanding your needs and answering your questions. This can lead to discussions that help you to be successful in adopting a new kitten.
Scammers don’t care whether you are well-informed, because that takes time, effort and genuine interest in your well-being and the kitten’s well-being. Scammers just want your money, and they want to minimize the time and effort required to get it.
Ask Unique Questions
There are lots of questions that can be asked of breeders, and they are important questions (vaccinations, recommended food, spay/neuter, etc.). However, scammers can harvest correct information from the websites of legitimate breeders just like they harvest their photos.
In order to identify a scammer, you need to ask questions that would be unique to a specific cattery. As questions that have unique legitimate responses from any given breeder. Good questions are those which you can independently verify.
Who is your veterinarian?
- Ask for the name of the vet business and the name of the veterinarian (person) they prefer to use. Ask for the website address of the veterinarian office. If they do tell you, you can contact the veterinarian and ask if they know the breeder. If they won’t or can’t tell you, that’s a red flag. Amusingly, in a conversation we had with a scammer they told us that it is a competitive advantage trade secret which vet they use and that only after we made the purchase would they tell us the name of the veterinarian. Seriously… no joke.
What is the name of the person who will deliver the kitten I adopt?
- What is their cell number so that I can coordinate my schedule with their arrival? Would you please send me a photo of them? Scammers will dodge this question in a variety of ways. Not having an answer is certainly a red flag. But if they say that the delivery company is large and that they don’t know the name of the person, that is a red flag too. There is no such thing as a large company dedicated to pet delivery – this isn’t an industry served by DoorDash, Uber, UPS, FedEx or the USPS. There are small pet delivery service companies, who are very personal and are willing to communicate clearly.
- A follow-up question if they give you the nonsense answer that the delivery company is large: What is the name of the large delivery company? If a large delivery service company truly exists, they will have a name, phone number, website address and be contactable. Or maybe this is just another competitive advantage trade secret that they don’t want to divulge to a person who just wants to adopt a cute little kitty. Yup… another red flag.
- Scammers might have a good answer to the question, such as “I deliver each kitten personally” or my “friend named Jennifer does our deliveries for us and here is her contact info”. So having a good answer to this question is not verifiable proof that they are not a scammer. But having a bad answer is a strong indicator that they are a scammer.
Will you please provide a reference for another breeder who knows you?
- Most legitimate breeders have strong affiliations with other breeders from whom they purchase new cats to replace their retiring breeder cats. The ragdoll cat association encourages mentoring for new breeders by an established breeder who is willing to help them get started. Ask for the name, phone number and website address for a reference who is willing to confirm that the breeder is legitimate. If they have no references for you that is definiately a show-stopper. Everyone must get their breeder cats from someone to get started, and if they continue for any reasonable length of time to become experienced (the kind of breeder you want) they will need to be retiring and replacing their breeder cats.
- Scammers might have a plausible answer to the question, such as “it was cattery XYZ, but they are no longer breeding” or they might give you another phone number that they or their family will use. So be careful with this one because having a plausible answer to this question does not prove that they are not a scammer. But not having any references is a strong indicator that they are a scammer.
Red Flags with Payments
Scammers don’t want you to pay cash in person
Most scammers will require that all payments be done electronically and they won’t accept cash in person. Why? They aren’t going to meet you, because they don’t have any cats. They aren’t present to receive a physical cash payment.
- Instead, they require payments via Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, Cash App, Zelle, etc. Of course, legitimate breeders accept one or more of these payment methods too. Legitimate breeders will accept cash payments, but scammers can’t. That is a good test.
- Scammers will often use email addresses for receiving payments via Paypal, Venmo, Apple Pay, etc. that don’t match their own name or their website or cattery name. Sometimes they use different email addresses for each one. That is a red flag.
- Never send money via wire services like Western Union. If they request that, it is a big red flag.
- Some scammers will ask you to purchase gift cards at a store, loaded with a cash amount, and then send them photographs of the back of the card as proof that you are going to pay when you arrive. Don’t do it! When they receive the photo of the card they can spend the money loaded on it. That is a major red flag.
If you truly suspect that you are dealing with a scammer, insist on paying cash in person. Give them lots of rational reasons why you need to do this, and when they reject all of your reasons it is obvious that they are scammers. Here are some things you can say to attempt to persuade a scammer to accept cash:
- I don’t have a Paypal account. (or a Venmo account, or an Apple Pay account, or a Zelle account, etc.)
- I don’t know how to do Paypal/Venmo/Apple Pay/Zelle.
- My bank doesn’t allow Zelle.
- My son/daughter has tried to set it up for me but we can’t get it to work.
- I have an old phone and the app doesn’t work.
Pretend to use Paypal, but don’t actually send a payment. Attempt to frustrate them into accepting a cash payment after repeated failures:
- Tell them that you send it via Paypal and ask them to check to see if they received the payment.
- Then, after that “doesn’t work” (because you are pretending of course), switch to Venmo and ask for that payment information.
- Repeat this process, pretending each time to attempt payments via each method they offer until you have collected all of the information for each electronic payment method.
- Then, contact the fraud support at Paypal, Venmo, etc. and report the scammer.
If the scammer demands that you send photos of a gift card, tell them:
- The camera on my phone is broken – it doesn’t work.
- I have an old phone without a camera.
- I’m trying to text you a photo, but I don’t know how to put the picture in the text.
- My camera doesn’t work and I’m not with anyone else who has a camera.
If they use Covid as an excuse for not wanting to handle paper money, tell them:
- I just got tested and I’m not infectious for Covid. I have the test results to show you. I have my vaccination record to show you.
- I have a bottle of spray sanitizer to clean the cash.
Insist on paying cash. Tell them:
- I always pay cash for everything.
- I just like to keep it simple and pay cash.
- I don’t want the government tracking me any more than it already does. That’s why I always pay cash.
- I already got the cash out of the ATM. It is right here in my hand and I will give it to you in person.
- If you will accept cash, I will give you an extra $100. Seriously, if they turn that down they are a scammer!
Insist on paying cash in person. Scammers won’t meet in person and therefore can’t accept cash.
Put the burden on the scammer, and ask lots of questions about why they won’t accept cash. Their reasons for demanding non-cash payments will become increasingly absurd.
Red Flags with Pickup and Delivery
Scammers don’t want you to pick up the kitten in person
Most scammers will push hard to sell you delivery or shipping service, even offering it for rediculously low prices. Even if you live close by to where they say they are located. Why? That’s a red flag.
- They don’t want you to come to them, because they don’t have any kittens.
- They don’t actually live in the US. If they give you an address, it isn’t their home – it belongs to someone else. They just looked it up on Google and chose it for purposes of their pretense.
- If they can get more money out of you (the shipping cost) that is good for them. It doesn’t matter that they quoted you a great deal for cross-country shipping – they won’t be shipping any kittens because they don’t have any.
- Some scammers will contact you on the day of the shipping with a story about a shipping problem that will require you to pay extra to solve the problem. Don’t fall for it – it is nonsense.
If you truly suspect that you are dealing with a scammer, tell the person that you want to come to their cattery to pick up your kitten in person and that you wish to pay cash.
Scammers won’t want you to do this. Why not?
- There is no cattery – it doesn’t exist. They can’t meet you anywhere. They aren’t present.
- The cat you want to buy doesn’t exist. They can’t provide it to you for any amount of money.
Ask for their address of their cattery.
- Look it up on Google Maps. It is probably someone else’s home who has no idea that their address is being given out.
- A day or two later, contact them and tell them that you have been driving to their address and will be arriving in an hour. They will attempt to persuade you to not come. Of course you aren’t really going to go there, because it would be a pointless waste of your time. Just pretend.
- An hour later, pretend to have arrived in their driveway. Contact them and tell them that you have arrived, and ask them to come out and meet you. They won’t, because they can’t.
- Interestingly, they will probably not tell you that they are looking out the window and don’t see you, because they aren’t there to look outside. Think about the absurdity of that.
- Tell them that you went to the door and the person who answered said that there is no cattery at this address.
Both legitimate breeders and scammers alike will then tell you that they can’t hold a kitten for you without a deposit. That is understandable, reasonable, and a normal practice.
- If you suspect that the person is a scam, tell them that you are willing to take the risk that someone else might buy the kitten before you get there.
- A scammer will either push back on your desire to take the risk of coming in person and paying in full, or they will simply ghost you – they will stop responding to your communication attempts.
- A legitimate breeder might not be happy about it, but if you demonstrate that you are serious and committed they will still work with you to come in person. A scammer won’t do this – they can’t, because they aren’t “there”, and there are no kittens “there”. There is no “there”.
- Some legitimate breeders (ourselves included) usually won’t schedule appointments with people who haven’t made a deposit, and for good reason. Home catteries aren’t retail pet stores or petting zoos. Breeding kittens and raising them properly takes a lot of time. People who are serious about adopting a top quality kitten can find other methods to ensure that the breeder is legitimate, and should make a deposit to demonstrate that they are legitimately going to adopt.
Be careful here: the important trust relationship between a legitimate breeder and a serious adopter is a 2-way street!