BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Max, my 3-year-old pit-shepherd rescue, was spooked by 4th of July fireworks last Saturday and went on a little 24-hour vacation. He’s home now, safely, but not before he was used as a pawn in an appalling game.

This game is called how much are you willing to pay for your missing dog – a dog your not-so-helpful unidentified neighbor may not actually have.

Neither Bakersfield Police nor the Kern County Sheriff’s office say they’ve encountered this particular scam here, but other areas of the country say they’ve seen text messages like the three I received Saturday within minutes of posting a notice on the Next Door app asking for help finding Max. Yes, three messages, from different phone numbers within minutes of each other.

“Believe me, I am really found it,” one said.

Another said: “Please send me your another cell contact number” and “Send me your family contact number.”

At that point I terminated those text conversations and 20 minutes later the owner of the home where Max had actually taken refuge — three and a half miles away – called.

A happy ending, yes but what if I had provided additional information? People fall for one scam or another every day — and now your own dog could become an unwitting accomplice.

Julie Johnson of the Bakersfield SPCA says don’t send money to anyone who claims they have your pet.

“People are getting scammed on Next Door and Facebook (by others) saying that other people have their dogs and they’re demanding basically a ransom or codes or some other things to get their dogs back,” she said. “That’s a scary situation – I mean, everyone is trying to find their beloved pet … but like all things out there, there seems to be a scam for everything.”

Rule number one – do not share any personal information. If anything seems fishy ask to see a cell-phone clip of the dog in question – say it’s to make sure it’s your pet. Still fishy? Back away. The caller could be looking for reward money they don’t deserve – or something much worse.

The moral of the story: Get your pet chipped, get his phone number on his tag, and be wary of “helpful” people who ask too many questions. 

Julie Johnson suggests, that if your pet is chipped, make sure the corresponding information is current.

Another tip: In addition to a phone number, include a word or a phrase on the dog tag that you can ask the caller to repeat back to you.