As part of an ongoing series for Vetstreet, award-winning consumer reporter Mitch Lipka tackles common scams that target pet owners. This week, he discusses how you can avoid being conned by people pretending to represent legitimate animal rescue groups.

Feed a pet donation jar

If you're an animal lover, then you’re the perfect target for the phony pet rescue scam. After all, who doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart when it comes to helping animals in need?

The Scenario Whether you spot a donation jar plastered with sad-looking animal photos at the gas station or you’re solicited by phone and email, the scam is always the same: You're asked to dip into your pocket and give some money to poor, unfortunate animals who are being cared for at a shelter or some other last-chance safe haven.

The Way the Scam Works You want to come to the aid of the animals and that takes money, so the scammers will try to make the organization's website or advertising materials look as authentic as possible to lend them credibility.

How to Protect Yourself If you really want to support an animal charity, resist the impulse to offer money on the spot. “Do your research before making a donation to any charity,” says Cori Menkin, an attorney for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who recommends checking out the group’s nonprofit status through the IRS website or your state’s nonprofit registry, which is often maintained by the attorney general.

There are also plenty of guides to reputable and effective charities, such as and If it's a shelter asking for funds, Menkin also suggests investigating its inspection history to ensure that your charitable contribution goes to a shelter that takes good care of its animals.

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.