Safe walks on Wag, the fake home scam
Eight dog walking tips to feel secure while walking new dogs
If you’re a veteran Wag walker, chances are pretty high that you already know about the Zelle and CashApp Wag scam in which a fake dog owner sets up a walk, cancels it and then calls you as a Wag rep to ask about your checking account information. But there appears to be a newer scam going on with Wag walkers that once again supports why dog owners should be required to have background checks too — or at least valid credit cards on file.
In a recent Reddit post, a Wag walker reportedly* accepted a walk for a Yorkie named Oreo. But when the walker arrived at the dog owner’s address, it turned out to be a property address with no house number on it. Two guys got out of a car and told the walker that they knew where Oreo was, although the Wag walker had never mentioned being a walker nor the dog’s name. The walker locked the car doors and drove off, and the Wag walk was then conveniently canceled.
An unfamiliar phone number called after the walk was canceled to ask the walker to go back to that address. A “neighbor” was going to tell the walker where to find the dog. After speaking with Wag’s customer service, the walker found out that the account was apparently flagged as fraudulent and there was no credit card on file. Why Wag! still allowed a flagged account to book walks is anybody’s guess.
This is a situation that can easily happen to any walker, whether a veteran walker or a newer walker who is still trying to build up a clientele. Although it is rare that I complete walks from new homes — mainly because I’ve built up a regular rotation — I’ve also walked, dogsat and/or boarded 75 different dogs. And all of those dogs were clearly new to me at one point and time. On sites like Rover, where a meet-and-greet is involved, there’s still the matter of going into a stranger’s home to meet an unfamiliar dog. So here are some tips to stay safe with new dogs and owners on these dog walking apps.
- Park as close to the home as possible: This is where the Wag! dog walker clearly made the best move. While I’m guilty of getting out of my car immediately, especially on blocks with rough parking, and just walking the rest of the way, this Wag! walker stayed close enough to a car that it was easy to get back in and lock the doors before the two men could do any potential harm.
- Thoroughly read all access information from owners and walkers: Unfortunately condos and apartment buildings can cause a lot of confusion with walks. First, there’s the matter of figuring out which doors lock and unlock. Second, you may have to go through back alleys, shared back unit spaces and/or gangways to find the Wag! lock (or their personal locks). Third, sometimes you’ll be able to get into the building but still have problems finding the exact unit if no numbers are on it. Even worse, you may run into a situation like I did where two units with the same letter (ex. “2A”) are facing each other because the apartment houses two different addresses.
3. Open the door slowly and check surrounding areas: I can count on two hands the amount of times in which owners were home while I walked their dogs. (Initially I was suspicious of anyone being in the home while I walked in to walk their dogs, but there have been valid reasons — physical illnesses, working from home and cannot step away, weather-related concerns for elderly dog owners, late for work, etc.) But approach all homes as though someone is there. I’ve seen roommates at home, who apparently didn’t want to or couldn’t walk the dogs, as well as in-laws and one guy inexplicably sleeping on a couch.
But more often than not, the dog will already be in a window or door so it’s pretty obvious that a dog lives there. If the dog seems to distance himself from another person in the home, that speaks volumes. However, if you walk into a home and the dog is nowhere to be found, do not lock the door behind you. Try to stay as close to the door as possible and call the dog to you. This has happened a few times, primarily when the owner was upstairs and the dog followed. Or, the dog is nervous or shy around new walkers and tends to hide. I’ve also seen this play out with dogs who were visually or hearing impaired.
4. Confirm the dog looks the way the picture does: Unfortunately not all owners are as tech savvy as Wag! walkers would like them to be. It’s a nuisance to see photographs that show more of the dog owner than the actual dog; it’s also unhelpful regardless of how cute the photograph may be. Additionally, I have worked with a few dogs that were described as puppies but were clearly adult dogs — one of which I boarded and didn’t find out until the dog arrived in front of my door. There was a Greyhound (who I love) who was described in the app as a Puggle. I notified Wag! to change that breed immediately. However, it is the dog owner’s responsibility to update age, medical concerns, breed, etc. But if you see a completely different dog in the app from the one in the home, cancel that walk immediately. Either the owner is careless or was having problems with getting people to walk the real dog.
5. Be extra cautious of “new” Wag! dogs: Everyone has to start somewhere, including dog owners. While the Wag! walker notes from others can tremendously help a new walker be ready for the dog’s behavior, new dog owners’ accounts won’t have any notes. Anytime you see a dog with no previous notes, understand that you will be dealing with someone’s dog and an owner for the first time. And sometimes the platform matters, too. I’ve been to a dog owner’s home who had a Rover lock on the door but all complaints from Wag! walkers. Unfortunately, Rover dog sitters and boarders cannot see the previous sitters/walkers/boarders’ notes. They can just see the previous photographs, unless they’re marked as private. This is where Wag! has the upper-hand over Rover. We can usually learn what we’re getting into ahead of time.
6. Pay attention to your surroundings near business addresses: While a business address may seem safer than a quiet, residential street where someone can jump out of the bushes without anyone noticing, business addresses are also in heavy traffic areas. That means lots of people may overlook you. On a residential block, people tend to pay more attention to passersby. Drop a few “hello” and “how you doing” as you go, should you walk a dog in a unit that has store traffic below it. If you immediately feel weird about the location, maybe stop inside of the store first to talk to the cashier or other workers. Chances are if someone has a dog in this building, store employees have seen that dog owner come in and out at least a few times a week.
7. Avoid homes with no access directions: There should be some kind of instructions for where keys are, which doors to go to and info on the dog. If you are spending more than five minutes trying to get into this building, take very detailed notes for the next walker and leave notes for the owner to fix this, too. After five minutes, notify Wag! You are getting paid to walk the dog, not to investigate the address. Wag! walks should not be a guessing game.
8. There are upsides and downsides to the owner wanting to “take” you to the dog: I’ve only run into two owners (both new to the platform) who stood outside to meet me with their dogs. The upside is you can see the dog immediately. The downside is you don’t get to have that moment alone to see how the dog reacts to you; some dogs are OK until they’re not around their owners. Other dogs do not understand why you’re walking them in the opposite direction of their owners and immediately protest. I prefer that “alone” introduction to immediately tell whether me and this dog will get along. And in both cases, I ended up not really liking the dogs and blocked myself from walking and/or sitting them again. It happens. You won’t mesh with all dogs anymore than you will mesh with all dog owners. Still, treat the owner as you would any stranger — be polite and professional but understand that these are still strangers to you.
Shamontiel is a dog lover to her core: 436 completed walks, eight dog-housesittings and four dog boardings at the time of this publication. Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Weekly Newsletter via MailChimp? Sign up today!
* Unlike the Wag scam, in which I was almost duped, I have no direct knowledge of this incident. I am basing this off of the post.