Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
The forgery of pet vaccination papers, a sham that leaves cats and dogs vulnerable to diseases they’re supposedly protected against, isn’t new. One heartbreaking and almost tragic situation occurred in England after a family adopted a cocker spaniel from a breeder. The new owners thought they’d done their due diligence, but the puppy, named Cooper, became quite ill with parvovirus. His veterinarian was suspicious of Cooper’s vaccination record because it lacked signatures and dates. Fortunately, Cooper survived.
Meanwhile, a Florida dog breeder was charged with forging a veterinarian’s signature on fake pet certifications. And in another disturbing example, enough forged rabies records circulated in Maine a few years ago that the state opened an investigation.
In one sense, phony animal vaccination records are comparable to fake COVID-19 vaccination documents, but a key difference exists: The patient named on the COVID paperwork knows that it’s fraudulent, while pet owners trust the seller, who might be perpetuating fraud.
Here are six ways veterinary professionals can address the problem.
1. Scrutinize Everything
When a client brings you a new pet’s records, examine them closely, and train your staff to do so, too. In the example out of England, the vaccination card wasn’t signed or dated. That’s an obvious red flag. In the second example, a scammer forged a veterinarian’s signature, which might not be as easy to catch. However, a team member who knows the veterinarian might notice the discrepancy.
Here are additional safeguards for checking a document’s authenticity:
- Veterinarians usually peel a label showing the lot and serial number off the back of a vaccination dose and stick it on the appropriate medical record. A missing label should raise concerns.
- Veterinarians should document vaccinations in patients’ electronic charts, so check those. Does everything match?
- If a vaccination record looks suspicious, compare the lot number and serial number to your records. Is it in your inventory history? If not, maybe call your distributor to see if the numbers are legitimate and to match an order history.
Those strategies won’t help you catch all scams, but they build a good foundation.
2. Pay Attention to the News
Whether you’re reading a newspaper or industry e-newsletter, look for articles about fraudulent behaviors in veterinary medicine and make sure your team is well informed. A scammer in your area likely follows a pattern you might spot if you’re alerted to it.
- Monitor the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker at bit.ly/3saLc54.
- Visit petscams.com, where you’ll find a list of suspected scammers. You then can compare names, email addresses and websites against the documents you receive.
- Check a similar list at bit.ly/3TDxi79 from the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.
3. Contact the Other DVM
If no one signed the vaccination card or a signature looks suspicious, consider contacting the purported veterinarian. Don’t accuse anyone of anything. Just tell the client you want to ensure the records are complete. How pet owners respond could provide clues to the veracity of the records.
In the Florida case, that’s how a veterinarian discovered the con.
4. Report Scams
If you suspect a scam, alert your state’s veterinary licensing board. Your clinic might not be the only one doing so, which would establish a pattern.
Other places to report fraud include:
- Federal Trade Commission (877-382-4357).
- FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov) if components of the deception took place online.
- International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.
In the Maine rabies scandal, a deputy tax collector noticed that a certificate didn’t look right. She called the veterinarian, and the clinic contacted state authorities.
5. Question the Pet Owner
Be careful not to libel or slander anyone, so do your due diligence before discussing a suspicious vaccination record with a client. The news that a pet might not be protected could come as a shock.
6. Educate Your Clients
Recommend ways that a client can investigate a dog breeder before buying a new pet. Maybe place pamphlets in the lobby or post a notice on your website and social media channels.
If you know a client is considering an animal from a breeder, you could offer a consultation. For example, reputable dog breeders should have American Kennel Club certifications. Also, if a breeder sells animals at bargain-basement prices or hesitates to have a potential buyer see the pet ahead of time, those are red flags.
According to petscams.com, Christmas is the most profitable time of the year for scammers claiming to sell pets that do not exist. “We unfortunately see an increase of up to 25% in victims in the run-up to Christmas, particularly in November and December,” blogger Mark North wrote.