Q: What’s a kinkajou? A: One of many animals used for bait in Cameroon pet scam

KinkajouI’m not sure whether a kinkajou would make a good pet or not, but from the pictures I’ve seen, they sure are cute. Cute as the puppies used in a common online scam.

BBB would like to warn you not to get scammed over a cute, but non-existent, furry critter.

A consumer from Tennessee just contacted us about a scam involving a nonexistent kinkajou she tried to buy for $600. Unfortunately, the seller was perpetrating a scam more commonly associated with puppies–often referred to as the Cameroon puppy adoption scam.

“I found it in an online classified site,” she said. “They were advertising it for $900, but were willing to go down to $600. They gave me a sob story about how their uncle was in a wreck and they needed to get the animal to a new home. They said they were in Arkansas.”

The consumer offered to pick up the kinkajou, but the scammers were adamant that it needed to be shipped, and had to be paid for with a prepaid REloadit card. The company didn’t give her a website and insisted on communicating via text message and email. She sent the payment and the email that came in response was so unprofessional-looking, she knew she’d been had. They tried to get more money out of her, but by then she was onto them.

She tried stringing the scammers along for a while, then began reporting them as scam artists on various online classified sites. Then she says she got a death threat via text message. Luckily the scammers are probably in Africa and aren’t likely to be able to make good on their threat.

(Note: The scammers are not associated with uShip, a legitimate company located in Austin, Texas. While uShip is aware of scams using its name, the company only learns about these cases after it is contacted by an unwitting customer. The scammers also claimed to be a member of BBB–also not true.) 

Below is an excerpt of the email the consumer received from “U-Ship Air Animal Services”:

WELCOME TO ANIMAL SERVICES .THE EXPERIENCED PET MOVING
SPECIALIST ,
U-SHIP AIR ANIMAL SERVICES WILL HANDLE YOUR PETS WITH CONFIDENCE ,
PROFESSIONALISM AND TRUST .AT U-SHIP AIR ANIMAL SERVICES, NO
TRANQUILIZER RULE IS DESIGNED FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR PETS DURING
AIRLINE CARGO TRANSPORT .U-SHIP AIR ANIMAL SERVICES IS REGISTERED
UNDER USDA AS AN INTERMEDIATE HANDLER , IS GOVERNED BY RULES,
REGULATIONS AND MANDATES OF ANIMAL WELFARE ACT {AWA} AND THE
FEDERAL LAW GOVERNING AIR CARGO SHIPMENT .U-SHIP AIR ANIMAL
SERVICES BASED IN USA AND HAS BRANCHES WORLD WIDE , SHORT AND & LONG
SHIPPING; FULLY INSURED; .WHEREVER YOUR PET ARE COMING FROM OR
GOING TO, U-SHIP AIR ANIMAL SERVICES HAS THE EXPERIENCE , PERSONNEL
AND EXPERTISE TO GET YOUR PETS TO THEIR DESTINATIONS AS SAFELY AND
RAPIDLY AS POSSIBLE . WITH OUR BUS-TO-BUS EXPERIENCE , HUNDREDS OF
PETS SHIPPED, OUR EXCELLENT TRACK RECORD OR CARING AND
PROFESSIONALISM MEANS THE PETS WE TRANSPORT ARRIVE
SAFELY,COMFORTABLE AND ON TIME.AT OR AIR ANIMAL SERVICES , WE
MAINTAIN THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF LOW OVERHEAD AND THE BEST 24-
HOUR/7-DAY SERVICE .WE INVITE YOU TO MAKE AN INTERNATIONAL
OR DOMESTIC AIR TRAVEL INQUIRY AND SEE FOR YOURSELF !
U-SHIP
AIR ANIMAL SERVICES WISHES TO INFORM YOU THAT WE HAVE
ONE FEMALE KINKAJOU AT OUR AGENCY FROM LIN SAY

Like many scams that appear to originate in Africa, I have found that you can copy and search lines of text from the letter above and find many reports involving pet-shipping scams. These scammers often use boilerplate text, making only a few changes. 

Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin offers shopping advice to help fight online scammers:

  • Beware of ads with multiple misspellings and grammatical errors. Many pet scams come from overseas, particularly Africa, so scammers usually do not have a good grasp on the English language.
  • Beware of “too good to be true” deals. Beware of offers on websites and in unsolicited emails offering extremely low prices on rare or pedigreed animals.
  • Beware of phishing. If you receive an email claiming problems with an order that asks for personal information or financial information, call the contact number on the website to confirm that there really is a problem with the transaction.
  • Beware of sellers who demand wire transfer payments. Money sent via wire transfer service is very difficult to retrieve and once the scammers have picked it up, there is little recourse. Your money is gone forever.
  • Pay with a credit card. Under federal law, charges made on a credit card can be disputed if the item is never received. Many card issuers also have “zero liability” policies under which the card holder pays nothing if someone steals the credit card number and uses it.
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