In this series, I will address challenges such as cat-purchasing scams, price gouging, managing expectations, acquisition timelines, how to spot reputable breeders, and more. My hope is to guide the desperately-seeking ragdoll lover. 

How to Avoid a Cat Scam

Edith was born a skeptic.

Monthly, I receive an email like this one:

I’ve been trying to find a ragdoll but instead, I have run into so many scammers! I even contracted with someone and sent them a deposit of $500. Once they began asking for money for transportation and insurance fees, I began to doubt I was doing business with a real breeder. Even though they sent me pictures and video, something still didn’t feel right. Finally, when I asked to talk by phone, they ghosted me—they stopped responding to email and texts. Now, I’m reaching out to you since you are local and have reviews on google.

The details of each story varies and the lost dollars range from hundreds to thousands. The plot devices these scammers employ are the result of practice. The scammer has learned how to answer buyer questions and anticipate subsequent ones. Many who seek a ragdoll companion are simply not equipped with enough information to steer clear of the many bogus offers on the internet. And no matter how much cash the scammer makes off with, the real sorrow is for the duped buyer –the family who anticipated collecting and adoring their blue-eyed, floppy kitten.

It’s easy to feel hoodwinked and discouraged. You might feel like a fool but falling victim to a scammer is somewhat normal. It is doing what Malcom Gladwell terms “defaulting to truth.” In Talking to Strangers, he posits that “our fundamental reaction to the receipt of any kind of new information is to believe it.” Sure, this is a broad generalization which we all would like to believe we possess some kind of immunity to. We’d like to think we are too smart to fall for a scam. We generally believe that we could spot a fake. But to do so would also require us to believe the worst about a person. Most of us don’t want to do that.

It’s true we shouldn’t maintain a staunch attitude of skepticism, doubting all that is said. We have to receive some of what we see and hear as authentic (even now, you’re reading this blogger’s words with a degree of trust). At some point in the conversation with the “breeder,” we give ourselves over to belief that he/she is legitimate because nothing has jumped out at us; nothing has signaled to our inner voice that this person is fibbing. We want to believe.

Psychologist and author Maria  Konnokova explains that “nearly anyone can be a good mark under the right circumstances.” We like to think of the scam as a single swift move, but the effective con is a long con, occurring over days, weeks, or even months. In Konnokova’s book, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time, she argues that con artistry is just a “careful set of orchestrated stages to gain trust.”

The con artist has a story to tell.

Her story begins with a website. Depending on her subject matter expertise, her command of the target audience’s language, and her ability to read human behavior, she can develop an elaborate narrative filled with twists and turns just nuanced enough to engender a cheerful “deposit,” a rational “insurance/travel fee,” and even a final pre-flight “remaining balance.”

Remember: all of this was in the contract you agreed to from the beginning. And a faithful debtor, you want to do what is right…

There are red flags, though—indicators that the process is illegitimate. Yet you are quick to overlook them in the face of a freshly messaged video of a cute cuddly kitten whom you have reserved by deposit. Additionally, you are extremely busy with work, the home repair, the struggling friend or child. At this point, you have invested weeks of watching this seal mitted kitten… You see how this all ends.

Pet breeding is, for the most part, unregulated.

The organizations through which breeders register litters—The International Cat Association (TICA) or Cat Fanciers Association (CFA)—possess no power to govern. These nonprofit associates merely set breed standards, create a code of ethics, inform the community of recent health research, officiate over cat shows, and serve as an official database for pedigree records which ultimately relies on the integrity of individual breeders’ reporting efforts. TICA and CFA do not involve themselves in legal matters between parties in any way. Essentially, there exists no form of pet buyer protection outside of the small claims process made in a mutually agreed-upon local court; yet even that enforcement mechanism is at the mercy of jurisdiction—both parties must agree to on a particular court unless they both reside in the same district and a judge must agree to hear the case.

Currently in the United States, only a grossly malfunctioning cattery will draw the attention of local animal rights authorities, and virtually no avenue for redress exists for interstate commerce. Depending on the method of payment, a buyer may have means to recoup his loss, i.e. Paypal Payment Protection, credit card disputation process. So obviously, acquiring a pet locally, from a breeder whom you know personally or by reputation is your best option.

In Part 2 of this series, I will identify some of the most common indications that you might be dealing with a scam artist.

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