Consumer Alert: The cruel scam that targets pet owners. Here’s how to recognize it.

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. There are few things more heartbreaking than losing a pet.

Now imagine being scammed by people who claim to have found it. Lost pet scams have been around for almost as long as we’ve loved man’s best friend, but now the scam is back with a new twist, a really insidious twist.

The thief is banking on the fact that you’ll be so excited that someone has found your pet, that you will act without thinking. And that’s when he gets you.

The American Humane Association estimates that one in three pets will get lost during his or her lifetime. And that means that a lot of us will experience the stress and grief of searching for a lost pet. And don’t underestimate the severity of that stress.

The New England Journal of Medicine cites cases of patients suffering broken heart syndrome, a condition in which a grieving person suffers symptoms that mimic a heart attack after losing a pet. And that’s why this scam is so extraordinarily cruel. Here’s how this works.

When someone loses a pet, they often post notices on websites and social media, in addition to the traditional posters on trees. And that’s when the scammer reaches out either by text or social media saying that he found your pet.

Here’s an actual message from a scammer that we re-created.

Scammer: Hello I have your dog.

Victim: Oh my gosh! You do? Where are you? I can come now.

Scammer: First, I want to verify. I got this number from the lost group. and whether the pet belongs to this number or not.

Victim: Okay. How do I do that?

Scammer: Okay. First, I’m going to send you a verification code because I wanna make sure you’re not a fake number. Then we will meet in a public place.

Note the awkward sentence structure. It’s likely the scammer is overseas, which is where many of these scams originate. What the scammer is sending you is a Google voice verification code. When you give him that code, he can create a Google voice number that’s linked to your phone number.

He’ll use that number to scam other people, and the scams will be tied to your number, not theirs. Scammers also target folks selling things online with this technique.

The lesson here: If someone sends you a Google voice verification code, it’s a scam. If you’ve been victimized by this scam, click here for directions to reclaim your phone number.