Avoiding Being Gotten By An Animal Scammer

     Very sadly, animal scammers have been popping up all over the Internet, trying to pose as legitimate businesses, ripping people off for ridiculous amounts of money. As a person who has been raising animals for decades, it has been really frustrating to see my pictures ripped off and used as bait for scams on Instagram, Facebook, and goodness knows where else. The social media companies are very unresponsive to requests to take down these scammers, so I wanted to offer some tips to help increase the chance that you are giving your business to legitimate businesses and not getting fleeced by scammers. So, here we go:

1) If the pictures being used to advertise the animals for sale lack continuity. They feature clearly different people, different backgrounds, different styles. This isn't a sure sign, but a flag to do more checking. Most breeders have some kind of similarity in the kind of pictures they use to show off their hedgies for sale. They may use the same background, or a limited range of backgrounds, that you will see used repeatedly over time. For example, I use a particular place in my garden, my photo box, or a blanket background, depending on the time of year, The way that I label my hedgehogs (birthdate and gender on the top left corner, baby name in the top right corner, and parents' names underneath) is always the same format, If pictures don't seem to match, you can reverse search images to see if they show up on other people's pages. If you find something like a Facebook page offering hedgehogs for sale from 20 different Instagram accounts, it's clearly a scam.

2) If they insist on payment sight unseen using a platform that has no buyer protection. Paypal business (not friends and family) or using your credit/debit card with a square invoice allows you to challenge the charge and get your money back if you can show you have been scammed. Paypal friends and family, zelle, cashapp, and a variety of other services offer no recourse if you are scammed. It's worth paying a surcharge to cover the user fees if the business charges that for using something like Paypal business instead of friends and family, in order to ensure you have buyer protection. Do your due diligence and shop with business that want you to feel comfortable and be protected. Legitimate businesses do ask for payment up front. If they are putting an animal on hold or scheduling transportation, they don't want to be scammed on their efforts, either. 

3) Other people in the same animal community confirm you're dealing with a legitimate business, on a platform that is who it says it is. Don't be afraid to ask. Sometimes scammers will make accounts that sounds similar to the real one (example: "XYZ Animals Transport" instead of "XYZ Animal Transport") and will steal the logo to trick people into thinking they are the real thing. If you smell a scam, ask a question you think will expose them and see if it does. If they claim to be an animal transporter, send a picture of a pride of lions and ask if they can transport them next week. If they say sure thing, send me your $ and I'm on it, run! If they claim to raise a variety of exotic animals, ask how much for a pangolin and if they tell you anything other than that isn't possible, run! If nobody has ever heard of them, don't send money until you've seen the goods.

4) The page is extremely new. This is an especially good way to identify a scam, if they are spoofing an established, legitimate business, but the date the account was created was only 3 weeks ago, then it clearly isn't the real one. If the business is super new, you'll want to see what you are getting or make sure you have buyer protection on any funds you send. 

5) They have no reviews, or their reviews are all 5 star and posted in a very short period of time. Most customers don't leave reviews, so it's very normal for reviews to trickle in over time and very unusual to have a whole bunch of people are glowingly happy and leaving reviews in a tiny time period. This is especially true if the page is fairly new.

6) Communication is stilted, doesn't flow, or doesn't make sense. Many scammers operate from overseas so if they are communicating as though it isn't their first language or they don't seem to know much about what they are selling, these are flags to do more checking. If they are telling you a bunch of weird excuses that don't add up at all, be suspicious. They may have other jobs or family obligations that interfere with things going perfectly smoothly, but it should at least make sense and be concerned about making sure that your needs are being taken care of.

7) The deal sounds too good to be true and/or requires you to act urgently. You need time to be able to think through your decision and if it sounds too good to be true, it might be.

I'm sure there are other things to watch out for but checking these seven things should help you avoid a lot of the scammers out there. Please use the comments to add your suggestions!

Long Eared Hedgehogs

In recent years, the adorably bat eared "long eared hedgehog" (LEH) has begun to appear in the North American pet trade. This species is often referred to as the "Egyptian Hedgehog" but they range considerably beyond that and can be found as far east as Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, and Russia. They tend to live in arid areas, such as deserts and steppes. They are generally active between dusk and dawn, and during the day can be found burrowed under rocks or bushes. They have strong, wide front feet and can dig their own burrows, though they often take advantage of burrows left by other animals.

The scientific name for LEH is hemiechinus auritus. It can be confusing because you may see them advertised as Egyptian or Russian. These are the same species, but breeders have noticed regional differences between those lines that were originally sourced from Egypt and lines originally sourced from Russia. The ones from Egyptian lines tend to have a pointier nose and the ones from Russian lines tend to have fluffier, softer fur. 

Care of LEH is similar but not the same as care for the more common African Pygmy Hedgehog (APH). Some of the care considerations for LEH are as follows:

Feeding: LEH require good quality protein: insects, raw meat, small whole prey (chicks, pinky mice), or cooked egg. They can eat a little bit of cooked vegetable or chopped fruit, up to about 1/2 tsp per day. We give ours high quality kibble that is always available, then their treats in the evening. They love those treats and are generally up and waiting for them!

Housing: LEH are very active and need as much space as possible. 10 to 12 square feet or more is preferred. We have been told that they can get stressed and ill tempered if they don't have plenty of room to roam. They need a cage with solid flooring (I like the Krolik XL rabbit cage or the Zen Habitats cages) and fully enclosed, as they can figure out how to climb out. It's fun to provide them with a sand pit or cypress mulch pile (bake in the oven for an hour or two at 325F to sterilize, then cool before using) to play in. 

Temperature: We keep our LEH at room temperature, which is 72 to 76 degrees and they seem to do well at those temperatures. Their range in the wild spans a wide range of temperatures, so it's best to ask the breeder you purchase from what temperature theirs are used to and replicate that with yours.

Enrichment: LEH are very curious and can be very interactive. Most will chase a cat toy on a string, and mine try to hunt my cats' tails. They enjoy tunnels, like ferret tubes and fabric tunnels. Most enjoy a wheel, though if your LEH is on the larger side, be sure that the wheel is big enough that they can run without having to bend their back. A 15" chinchilla wheel is generally sufficient. They enjoy play time outside of the cage and are very curious explorers.

LEH personalities are quite different than APH. Some, but not all, explore with their mouths, so may be seen as nippy. If they feel threatened, their first instinct is often not to ball up, but to head butt or bite. This kind of bite can draw blood. They are generally not aggressive, but you do need to be aware of where their mouth is when handling so as to avoid giving an opportunity to nip. I seldom get nipped and have not had a hard bite yet, but I am always aware and alert that it could happen. Because of this, they are not recommended for young children or nervous owners. Consistent handling does seem to help them develop trust and to be calmer when handled.

LEH are generally bigger than APH, though some smaller LEH may not be as large as bigger APH. My biggest LEH is double the size of the smallest. They do generally need attention to grooming their nails as they grow quickly. This is generally a two person job. LEH tend to live longer than APH, with an average captive lifespan of 7 years.  

LEH are currently more expensive than APH because they are only recently brought to the US, having been imported from breeders in Europe, which is a very monetarily consuming endeavor. They generally only have one litter per year, with February and March being the most typical times, and have 1 to 4 babies per litter.

LEH make wonderful pets if you are prepared for their needs and their special personality. 

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