Avoiding ESA Scams and Fraud

Avoiding ESA Scams and Fraud

Recently, HUD updated their guidance (FHEO2020), applying new standards to the emotional support dog registration process, now requiring licensed mental health providers to have “personal client knowledge” and an “ongoing treating relationship.” To comply, our Housing Pro 2020 product provides multiple clinical sessions between client and an in-state licensed provider.

Most online vendors are bogus.

We routinely shop the competition, chatting with other vendors who offer emotional support animal services. Our ask to them was simple, “what are you doing to comply with HUD’s latest guidance, FHEO 2020-01.” We called the “big names in the business,” the little one man shops, and all points in between.

In a word, they all failed.


The laws have dramatically changed.

Answers included “what’s that,” “that law doesn’t apply to us,” and quite amusing, “that’s up to the therapist to decide.”

One vendor, with 65,000 customers, was woefully unfamiliar with HUD’s new mandate, oddly pointing out Illinois’ and Indiana’s legislation when queried about HUD’s requirement for an “ongoing treating relationship.”

We encourage our readers to proceed cautiously when shopping online for an ESA letter. The US government cracked down and it appears few have risen to the challenge.

Doing business online

When shopping on the Internet, we understand and share your concerns, so here's a simple rule to help you find legitimate ESA online businesses.

If a website is selling ESA vests, ID cards, certificates, along with "doctor recommended an" letters, just run away.

Watch Out For Red Flags

Many websites claim to “certify” or “register” emotional support animals. Any site claiming to certify your dog is a fraud, likely selling worthless paper and products to people who believe an ESA must be registered.

Unfortunately, our industry is filled with unscrupulous individuals and sketchy websites that are nothing more than offshore call centers. With that in mind, here’s a short list of red flags to consider when reviewing your options:

  • Dirt-cheap documentation
  • Instant certificates
  • ESA certificates
  • Lifetime letters

Emotional Support Animal “Registration” Services. Somehow their "animal registration card" confers magical legal rights to Mr. Fluffy. Totally bogus. Assistance animals are not required to be registered, there's no government agency oversight, there's no legitimate approved list.

Instant Approval. We find it unlikely that any reputable therapist or doctor would instantly approve an emotional support animal based.

Bargain or low cost verification letters. You get what you pay for ...

All of the above, in our opinion, is a dead giveaway, so caveat emptor.

Only licensed professionals and physicians are qualified to provide authentic and genuine ESA services.

Service Dog Registration

Be advised, in many states is it now a crime to refer to your untrained family pet as a “service dog.” If you spent money on service dog registration and certification, demand a refund.

Automated Online Services

Beware automated (24/7) online services claiming to provide “real” ESA letters of recommendation.

Avoiding Internet scams, and they’re all over the place.

There are plenty of other Internet-based ESA letter services, some legit, some not.

In general, we’ve found online companies offering instant approval, lifetime letters, or animal registrations to be a scam, as their letters are not legally binding. Even worse, they may very well be breaking the law.

Every day we sadly hear horror stories, read deceitful emails from our competition, and sympathize with those who have (incorrectly) placed their trust in deceitful online ESA vendors.%%CTA2%%

Here are a few red flags to might help you avoid pitfalls and traps.

Do I need to use an “ESA registration” site?

No, that’s not a legal requirement for an ESA, and quite often, those sites are a complete scam.

Will I need additional accessories like vests and an ID card?

Again no, not a legal requirement.

That being said, we recommend making your assistance animal easily distinguishable, particularly when flying.

Many airlines agree.

A brightly-colored ESA vest can help indicate to landlords and airline personnel that your ESA is more than just a pet.

We suggest the Emotional Support Dog Harness With Reflective Straps (on Amazon).

Beware of false advertising.

Recently, a popular online vendor sent an email informing us, “Did you know that airlines are now requiring all travelers to bring their Emotional Support Animals in an approved ESA travel bag?”

And great news, they’ve got a bag to sell you — for $100!


A review of Southwest Airlines reveals (as we knew beforehand) there is no demand for this sort of nonsense. It’s all a money grab, a ruse to pad the ESA vendor’s bottom line.

Responding back, we ask for an explanation, to which they replied, “That’s actually becoming more true, as time goes by because of rising concerns for the safety of other passengers & Pets also on the plane. BUT it’s still not considered as Mandatory, as of now.”

First, it’s required. Now, it’s not mandatory, but becoming more true.

Unhappy with the reply, we email, “How was that not false advertising, and why would I want to do business with your company if you engage in such practices?”

Pet registrations are a scam.

Don’t, just don’t. Whatever you do, please don’t register your ESA pet, as EVERY SINGLE registration is a scam.

Under law, an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through affection and companionship. ESAs are not required to be registered nor have specialized training.

Never use a pet certificate.

Completely worthless — avoid using them at all cost, as they’re a dead giveaway you’ve dealt with a letter mill.

A Medical Doctor needs to sign the letter.


Here’s the governing Federal regulations for that, “Accordingly, persons who are seeking a reasonable accommodation for an Emotional Support Animal may be required to provide documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides support that alleviates at least one of the identified symptoms or effects of the existing disability.”

Need More Information?

An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Getting qualified for an assistance animal is as simple as 1-2-3.

1: Place an Order.

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2. Complete an Assessment.

After you place an order, you'll complete our proprietary HIPAA-compliant comprehensive online assessment.

3: Engage With an Expert.

Finally, you'll engage in therapeutic care with a local, licensed health care provider via secured video technology

Being Approved.

An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that is recognized as a “reasonable accommodation” for a person with a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act. An emotional support animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability.

New HUD Guidelines.

HUD's new rules are an update to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) that sought to equalize the ability of people with disabilities to enjoy housing. Under the law, housing providers had to exempt those with disabilities from “no pet” rules and pet fees. But some of the gaps in the rules have been abused by those simply trying to bypass pet rules and fees. Others who are providing the letters have exploited uneducated consumers To comply, Housing Pro 2020 provides multiple clinical sessions between client and an in-state licensed provider.

Therapeutic Relationship Required.

Documentation submitted in support of an assistance animal request must come from a person who has a “therapeutic relationship” with the resident seeking the accommodation. A therapeutic relationship is “the provision of medical care, program care, or personal care services, in good faith, for and with actual knowledge of, an individual’s disability and that individual's disability-related need for an assistance animal by:

  1. a physician or other medical professional;
  2. a mental health service provider; or
  3. a non-medical service agency or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual's disability.”

Because a therapeutic relationship requires that care services be provided, in good faith, for an individual’s disability, documentation submitted on the basis of a single visit to a health care provider solely to obtain a “doctor’s note” will generally not be legally sufficient.

Emotional support animal letter for travel.

An emotional support animal provides comfort to support a customer’s diagnosed mental or emotional disorder. Emotional support animals need not have specific training for that function. All must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. Acceptable ESAD Int'l emotional support animals are limited to dogs and cats. Your animal must behave appropriately in a public environment. If your 10-pound Chihuahua acts like Cujo, running around the airport on attack mode, the "best ESA letter in the world" won't matter. To qualify, an individual must have a health professional verify:

  • A mental health-related disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM IV).
  • A need for the emotional support or psychiatric service animal to remedy the disability’s effects during air travel and activity at your destination

The passenger/client must be currently under the care and treatment of a licensed professional. To comply, Travel Pro 2020 provides a clinical session between client and an in-state licensed provider. Read: ESAD Int'l's service dog fraud policy.

Learn more about qualifying for an assistance animal.