21 July, 2015

How a Fake ESA Letter Ruined My Vacation (Updated 2018)

Fake ESA letter online offering ESA dog registration

Photo: iStock.com / Yuri

Fake Doctor Online: Not All ESA Letters Are Created Equal

Having a mental or emotional disability can be every bit as challenging and debilitating as a physical limitation.

But sadly, many people underestimate the severity of mental and emotional disabilities, simply because their symptoms often go unnoticed.

However, that doesn’t make them any less important.

Many people do not understand the significance or prevalence of these disabilities, and many are still unaware of alternative forms of treatment, such as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs).

Additionally, many landlords and airlines are still resistant to ESAs.

ESA Letter Scam: One in Four Americans will experience mental illness in a given year!

Thankfully, however, the United States government has been working towards further protecting disabled individuals from discrimination.

The primary laws concerning ESA owners are the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Laws like the ACAA provide specific guidelines for individuals traveling with an Emotional Support Animal or Service Animal to which an ESA owner must present a legitimate Emotional Support Animal certification.

The ACAA requires airlines to allow individuals with ESAs to fly with their ESA in the cabin, for free, rather than requiring them to check their animal in as cargo like a pet.

However, in order to qualify for these protections, individuals must have a valid ESA Letter, which serves as a prescription for the ESA, and possibly additional forms based on the specific airline, like Delta.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

There are many sources to obtain an Emotional Support Animal Letter online, but unfortunately, not all of these sources are legitimate or in full accordance with the law.

Fake Emotional Support Animal Registration: Approximately 18% of American adults live with some form of mental or emotional disability

The Day Everything Changed

Six years ago, I was in a nasty car wreck and endured a very personal loss.

To this day, I still suffer from depression and anxiety, and as part of my recovery process, my doctor suggested I get a cat, to serve as an Emotional Support Animal.

“But how would I train it?” I asked. I’d never owned or cared for an animal before.

She smiled.

Being a cat owner herself, my doctor assured me that cats are relatively low maintenance creatures and that a cat would probably be quick to “train me.” She insisted that a companion animal was what I needed.

She pointed me towards a local animal shelter, and that’s where I met Tigger.

For the last six years, my cat Tigger has been my faithful companion and closest friend. He’s been there for me through everything and has helped me cope with my disabilities.

Emotional Support Cat Registration

Tigger!

How a Fake ESA Letter Ruined My Vacation

Recently, Tigger and I decided to take a much-needed vacation.

I decided to get an Emotional Support Cat letter so that he could fly with me.

Wading through all the laws and airline regulations became very tedious, and I hastily chose an online ESA registry that was quick to promise that all I had to do was pay them and I’d get my ESA Letter.

No questions asked.

I didn’t know any better, so I did it. I quickly paid them and within a few days, I received a letter that I believed to be completely legitimate.

A week later, Tigger and I headed to the airport.

I couldn’t wait to work on my tan.

esa letter online scam - emotional support dog goes to miami beach

“Miami here we come!”

But when we got to the airport, something was wrong.

The airline attendant locked her lips as if trying not to smile and quietly shook her head “no” as she reviewed my ESA Letter.

Was Tigger on the No-Fly List?

My gut sank.

After speaking to the airline’s customer service managers, I learned that the letter I bought wasn’t in accordance with all the current Emotional Support Animal laws or airline policies.

In fact, further investigation revealed that the “doctor” I bought my letter from wasn’t even a Licensed Mental Health Professional, who can only write an ESA letter.

I was pissed.

Although my letter stated that my cat offered emotional support, the law required that it show a diagnosis of a mental or emotional disability, and it had to be from a Licensed Mental Health Professional, such as a clinical psychologist, licensed professional counselor, mental health counselor, psychiatrist or a licensed psychiatric, and mental health nurse practitioner.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

Additionally, the letter must indicate that the animal is a “reasonable accommodation,” i.e., assistive aide, benefitting the individual.

The Emotional Support Animal letter that I got met none of those ESA letter requirements, and I didn’t know what to do.

thought my letter would protect me from being discriminated against and would allow Tigger and I to fly without incident.

Instead, I learned not all ESA Letters are created equal.

Emotional Support Dog Letter from certapet counters the fake and scam letters sold by shady esa doctors

That’s When I Found CertaPet

Since that unforgettable day, I did end up finding a better place to get my ESA Letter online.

This time, I found one that’s both completely legitimate and fully recognized by every domestic airline.

Naturally, I was more than a little jaded after my first experience with buying an ESA Letter online but this time, I did my homework.

Instead of paying for some bogus Emotional Support Animal registration that’s absolutely meaningless, I decided to do it right.

This time, I used a highly recommended company that connected me with an actual, Licensed Mental Health Professional; one with verifiable credentials.

That’s when I found CertaPet.

This time, I was required to complete an online mental health screening, and unlike my previous experience, I knew that a Licensed Mental Health Professional would personally manage my prescription for an ESA and write my official letter.

I did my homework and obviously, so had they.

I sighed with relief, knowing my money was well spent.

Now I can travel with confidence and ease, thanks to CertaPet…

…and life’s never been better.

 esa letter online scam by fake esa doctors

If you think you could benefit from having an Emotional Support Animal, click below to see if you qualify.

See If You Qualify for an Emotional Support Animal

Updated, 2018: How to Tell if an ESA Service is NOT Genuine

1. Letters are NOT written by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP).

A Licensed Mental Health Professional can be a clinical psychologist, licensed professional counselor, mental health counselor, psychiatrist or a licensed psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner.

Depending on your state, a primary care physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner may also be considered an LMHP.

2. They don’t have an LMHP licensed to practice in your state.

For your letter to be completely valid, your LMHP must be licensed to practice in the state you are living in. We often notice landlords declining an ESA letter for housing, citing that the letter was not prescribed by a professional licensed to practice in the same state.

CertaPet works with 34 LMHPs who are licensed to practice in 49 US states. They will always connect you with an LMHP who practices in your state.

3. There is NO screening.

A mental health screening ensures that you are indeed qualified to receive an Emotional Support Animal letter, and the LMHP issuing the letter knows about your disabilities and believes an ESA would come to your aid.

If an ESA service is awarding letter to anyone without any screening, rest assured that the letter will be questioned and likely declined when you are producing it to request reasonable accommodations, be it your landlord or an airline.

4. The Service calls itself a ‘registry’ and asks you to sign up for it.

There is no such thing as an “official Emotional Support Animal registry.”

This also goes for sites with names similar to “United States dog registry, “US Animal Registry,” and “Service Dog Registry of America.”

Again, to confirm, there is no national or state or city level registry for Emotional Support Animals. An ESA is absolutely not required to be registered anywhere! Same goes for “certification” and getting your ESA “certified” as an Emotional Support Animal! It is not real.

Any service having the words “United States”, “US”, “National” added to the word “registry” is basically trying to fool people into thinking that their pet gets added to an ‘official registry’ or a legit ESA registration (tell me about easy-money)! They often provide shiny add-ons such as a ‘framed certificate’, an ID card for your dog, dog tags containing the words ‘Emotional Support Animal’, etc.

While the swags may be nice to have, they do not make your pet an ESA.

In short, a registry is not real and does not benefit you or your Emotional Support Animal.

5. There is no follow-on service.

You must make sure that an ESA service has a good support service that will help you even after your letter is delivered. They must be able to respond to verification requests, or be able to deliver follow-on services such as an Airline-specific authorization form. Check out Delta’s new policy here.

Comments 126

  1. Who here recently received an ESA letter from CertaPet and used it successfully? This fall I’ll be starting college and want to take my cat with me for anxiety purposes, those of which are the reason I won’t see a health professional in person. So please, someone give me proof this website is legitimate. I can’t trust their assertions.

    1. Shaey – I have used an ESA Letter from CertaPet to fly on Alaska Airlines several times . No issue . Alaska has changed their requirements so make sure you have all the forms prepared and submitted in advance , 48 hours per the airlines . I would suggest earlier if possible . Hope this helps .

  2. Excuse me “Bubba Joe” but I dont think you quite understand or possibly have ever experienced having a mental illness. If you had you would understand. I was raped at the age of 15 and 13 years later I am still having nightmares. I always had bipolar disorder but since that incident I have developed and been medically diagnosed with PTSD, manic depression, social anxiety disorder just to name a few. I was on 8 medications at one time and thanks to my dog I have been down to 6 now. I have went from coping with self harm to coping with taking my dog for a walk or talking to him “like he is human”. Just the sight of his face calms my anxiety. I can not even stress how many times I took him for a ride purposely so I didn’t drive my car into a tree due to I would never hurt another living creature. Before him i had 2 suicidal attempts on record and 1 not medically on record. A hospilization for weeks in a mental institution. A problem with alcohol. Since I have had my dog I have had no suicidal attempts, very limited self harm, no hopitalizations and less medications and I drink so seldom now. Please take your ignorance some where else. You do not feel what every person feels. The way I feel about a situation you might think is “over reacting” and vice versa. I will never be able to out grow my mental illness or defect as some call it, but with my dog I learn to cope and love not only myself but life more and more each day.

  3. I guess every whiny liberal need an ESA now..boohoo, learn how to cope with life and not cry about every lousy thing that happens to you. The only ones who need animals are legit people with a true higher mental/physical well-documented disability than those not being able to handle adulting on a regular basis and having their feelings hurt on occasion. Get a life and have real disabilities you freeloading, non-service animal whiners

    1. Wow. This is a very close-minded approach to Emotional Support Animals. I don’t believe your “suck it up” mentality has worked well in society considering our increase in multiple homicide tragedies. On a more basic level, who are you to issue proclamations about how people should live their life? “Learn how to cope” – ESAs are a coping mechanism and a rather benign one. I, for one, prefer the unconditional love and support of my Labrador over medication with potentially horrible side-effects.
      How about you don’t tell me how to live my life and I won’t tell you your 50’s mentality fell out of fashion nearly 80 years ago?

    2. Obviously, “Bubba Jo” is so confident in his opinion and righteousness that he has to use what is most likely a “handle” than his real name when attacking those who have next to debilitating mental health issues. “Manning up” just doesn’t solve everything.

    3. Don’t you have more important things to WHINE about than something you don’t understand? Have you ever had a conversation with someone with a support dog to learn about their needs or if you see a dog with a vest, do you stare them down and judge them? How many times have you been negatively affected by a service dog or an ESD? Don’t judge people with legitimate needs as whiners. It sounds like you are quite a whiner yourself.

      1. Well said Mary !!! Bigots are like crabs in a bucket, they pull all that’s around him down when trying to climb out! BUBBA JOE sounds like an anti social narciccist who Obviously must lash out at random strangers in order to fill fill his need for narcissistic supply.. obviously he has no real friends! ( just the imaginary ones … lol)

        But my entire reason I joined this blog is to comment & compliment your well written response !!!

    4. As the victim of a violent crime, something you would not wish for your wife or mother, that is really a very closed minded point of view. I have the physical scar of the knife to my neck. Even all these years later, I suffer from depression and anxiety that can be triggered by any number of factors. ESAs are NOT service animals, which under the law, have a different definition. Mine did help with a physical issue as well. I don’t whine about what happened to me. It happened and I am essentially over it. But every now and again I just don’t feel like going on. It was worse this year because my beloved ESA dog died suddenly and I have never grieved for any animal the way I did for her. It was about as bad as it gets. My family got me a new puppy and she is filling a void that I thought could not be filled. She is actually a great-great-niece of my last dog and has a very similar temperament. Training a dog will be much tougher this time around as I am that much older. I have been adulting since I had to start raising siblings at the age of 22, more than 40 years ago, and I still adult for my adult children when they need me to, and for a grandchild. Having this new pup will help us all. I am glad adulting comes so easy to you. Maybe you are just lucky. But truly, I don’t think real adults would be so critical of something they clearly cannot understand.

    5. You must not have PTSD, or a serious mental illness. Well let me take that back how mean you are being to people obviously proves you have something wrong with you. Do you know how it feels to black out during a manic episode? That’s what service animals are for. Sounds like you just need to find something better to do with your time then sit on the computer and torment people. I hate politics, so I can give a crap what you are talking about with the liberal thing lol. However what you don’t understand is there is a process people actually have to go through to get a service animal not anyone can have one. It takes time, and effort on their part. So instead of sitting on your computer tormenting people on a website you obviously went to just to start shit. Why don’t you go to work, or school, and do something better with your life. Jacking off would even be more productive then sitting on here tormenting people. Have a nice day sir.

    6. Spoken like a true Bubba!! I have seen more Conservative hats and shirts on people dragging their dogs and cats onto fights…. You should just stay out of things you have no actual knowledge of.. While a lot of scammers are using this to fly for free, plenty of people have real issues that your stupid attempt to be clever make light of… Guessing that you have a perfect little life where you have nothing better to do than judge others from your high horse while pretending that you have real issues and you just suck it up.. To make a long story short, shut up fool your fake MAGA boxers are showing….

    7. Bubba joe is an ignorant piece of shit making us southerners look bad. Please ignore this imcopentent asshole obviously he doesn’t love animals like most people some people DONT NEED A MENTAL ILLNESS THEY JUST LOVE THEIR DOG AND WANT THEM TO BE WITH THEM. I may only have some anxiety and ptsd but my dog makes my life better every day and people like you talk shit like you know everything when the truth is people like you make the world worse everyday

    8. Why don’t you leave the decision about who needs this type of help to people who are qualified to make that decision. I’m a licensed mental health professional and I am very disturbed to read your comments to somebody who had the courage to the open about their problems. If you ever happen to have the misfortune of developing similar problems you might eventually see how serious the issues this woman described actually are.

      I haven’t run across too many whiners or scammers in all of my years helping people. Unfortunately I’ve run across many ignorant people like you who only make it harder for people with real problems to get help.

      I suggest you quit your whining get into reality that mental health problems aren’t a matter of person being weak any more than having a broken leg is being weak. Fortunately, I can see by the other responses to your comments that you are clearly in the minority and you need to educate yourself before you embarrass yourself again.

  4. You’re so full of it lol. They wouldn’t threaten to land the plane because you were being a whiny baby about a dog lol. Especially if you made a terroristic threat stating that you wouldn’t make it to the next airport, that would mean the air Marshall would have taken you into custody. They wouldn’t have listened to your lying ass LMAO. take some Zyrtec and get the fuck over it. I’m sick of imbeciles like you on the plane ugh, seriously. Take a damn allergy pill and get the stick out of your ass. Have a nice day.

  5. I get very severe anxiety/panic attacks (you really, really, really don’t want me to have one) when I got. I have an ESA that I HAVE to take with me when I fly. I can’t take the meds for my anxiety because I have pretty severe reactions to ALL (ive tried every single one) of them, hence needing my ESA.

    Unless you are deathly allergic (meaning you will go into anaphylactic shock and DIE if you breathe/touch said animal), you can take an allergy pill to deal with your allergies and quit being a douchebag. It’s people like you that make my anxiety kick in.

    F.Y.I, you can tell by the look of someone who has a legitimate need for an ESA on a flight. I will look nervous, tense, shaky, pale , close my eyes and look like I will die when the airplane hits any sort of turbulence as well as walking a little shaky if i have to get up and use the bathroom. I will also look like I.could burst out hysterically crying at any moment because I am literally attempting to try not to break down and cry.

    1. I’m a Licensed Mental Health Professional. What you are describing is not a panic attack, but possibly a phobia, a stress “reaction,” Social Anxiety, or possibly a personality disorder like Histrionic or Borderline. I am not diagnosing you, just listing possibilities based on what you claim). Panic attacks come out of the blue, without provocation, and people often say “panic attack” any time they feel acute anxiety.
      You can usually not look at someone and tell they have a mental health condition. You can often tell however, if someone is inappropriately seeking attention.
      If you have a significant mental health issue, you have probably seen someone professionally for treatment (where did you get all the anxiolytics you say you’ve tried?). Even your Primary Card Provider can write you a legitimate ESA letter.
      I suggest you talk with a health professional with EXPERIENCE in mental health issues about your situation.

  6. I actually do have an ESA and I obtained my certified letter stating that I do need my ESA in PERSON. I am skeptical of anyone who gets theirs online. In less you ha e agoraphobia, you would be seeing someone in person. Also, if this was just an article warming about fake sites, it wouldn’t have links to a site that is ‘legitimate’. Basically, if you need to have an ESA, you need to get it directly from the professional that is seeing you, not from an online site.

    1. Your skepticism is understandable. The idea that people are beginning to receive assistance from doctors and mental health professionals online is tough for a lot of people to wrap their mind around. That said, I foresee a future where I don’t have to drive 30 min, wait another 30 min in a lobby, be seen for 10 minutes and drive 30 min back home. Whatever your opinion, mental and medical care are moving online in a rapid pace. It is truly great that you are lucky enough to take time off of work and have someone convenient for you to see and talk to. Not all of us are that fortunate in our schedule or our access.

    2. I am a college student and I am seen at the counseling center on my campus. They recommended for me to get an ESA because of my personality disorder, but they themselves will not write me the letter because it is one of their policies (my guess is because then they’d have to start allowing pets in the dorms). I have no other way to get a letter so online is my last hope. I feel like just like how some people don’t understand mental disorders and make fun of people who say they have anxiety or something, someone who thinks they deserve a treatment more than someone else because they’re assuming that other person just wants attention hurts and and doesnt help us feel better at all.

  7. You don’t know that, and you have no way of knowing that. How would you be able to ascertain just by looking at someone whether or not they have a mental health condition firvwhich a licensed mental health professional has recommended the use of an animal for emotional support?

    I fly a lot, and I have yet to see any dog behaving badly.

    I have never heard of being “written up,” and suspect that you don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t believe that you are a flight attendant.

  8. @Whiteney

    Actually Terriers are the most aggressive type of dog. That’s why bull dogs were bred with them to make the ultimate fighting dog. Pitbulls were bred to be very gentle and loving towards humans though. And yes the most non fatal bites goes to the dachshund.

  9. Shame on you ! If you have nothing nice to say, move on.

    I totally respect this Lady for her report and advise based on her experiences.

    You apparently have no life to be a Bully on a site when folks are helping one another.

    You need an emotional support animal … they don’t need you!!!

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