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!