As part of an ongoing series for Vetstreet, award-winning consumer reporter Mitch Lipka tackles common scams that target pet folk. This week, he discusses how you can avoid being conned by unscrupulous people when you're trying to rehome animals — whether you have a surprise litter of puppies or kittens who need loving homes or foster animals whom you're trying to help.

Rehome Scam Kittens

When you're looking to rehome pets, scammers can target you by offering to pay above and beyond the price you’ve named to cover things like vaccinations, vet bills and adoption fees — as long as you agree to ship the animal to them. But what they really want to do is make off with your animal and your money.

The Scenario: You receive a response to your ad, most likely via an anonymous email, from an individual who's very eager to take in your animal as quickly as possible.

The Way the Scam Works: The enthusiastic person offers to pay you extra in order to cover additional shipping charges — and that's when the real scam begins. Once you've used your own money to pay the supposed transport costs to the scammer's "shipping broker," you’ll receive a phony check. The problem is that it can take weeks for a bank to report that you’ve cashed a fake check, and when you finally realize what has happened, it's already too late.

How to Protect Yourself: If you’ve shipped the animal, don’t expect to see it again. And if you’ve covered the shipping costs, don’t expect to see that money again, either.

"These scams succeed because too many people overlook red flags," says Pete Ziverts, who heads up anti-fraud efforts for Western Union. Take this advice from the Better Business Bureau: Walk away from anyone who offers to pay you more to ship an animal — you should only agree to make an in-person transaction for the proper amount.

Mitch Lipka is one of the more widely read consumer reporters in the country. He's written for The Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports and AOL. He was the 2010 winner of the New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online. Lipka has a dog and two cats.