Fact checked

Fake Emotional Support Animal Certificates: ESA Fraud

There are some organizations on the internet that claim to certify or register your emotional support animal and may even sell ESA vests, ID tags, or certificates. Be careful not to purchase a fake emotional support animal certificate as you risk not having your rights as an ESA owner protected, and at worst may leave you in legal trouble.

April Brightman
February 8, 2024
November 1, 2023
6 minute read
Updated By
Expert Reviewed By:
November 1, 2023
August 18, 2021
6 minute read
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Discover the risks of fake emotional support animal certificates and how to protect yourself and your furry friend. Learn how to identify genuine documentation and certified therapists. Ensure your emotional support animal gets the real support it needs.

There are plenty of companies out there offering emotional support animal-related items and documents for purchase, but how can you be sure your ESA letter is legitimate? Here is a guide on some of the telltale signs of illegitimate emotional support animal certification.

Fake Emotional Support Animal Certificates

Fake emotional support animal certificates are a growing concern. To avoid scams, always verify the legitimacy of ESA documentation. Certified therapists and proper evaluations ensure you and your ESA receive genuine support.

What are Fake Emotional Support Animal Certificates?

An ESA letter written by a licensed mental health professional is the correct way to legitimize your emotional support animal. Some fake forms of ESA identification include:

  • Certificates - these are pieces of paper that look similar to a birth certificate or graduation diploma. They look official, but won't hold any legal value and can be denied by a knowledgeable landlord.
  • Registries/Registration Numbers - Some organizations offer to "register" your emotional support animal for a fee after entering some information about your pet. These registries seem legitimate, and sometimes even like an official government site, but unfortunately, these registration services will not protect you or your ESA's legal rights.
  • Emotional Support Animal Vests - Contrary to popular belief ESAs (and service dogs!) aren't required to wear a vest, so you don't need to buy one for your support animal.
  • ID Cards & Badges - These products are often used to misrepresent normal pets as ESAs or service dogs, but sometimes fool well-meaning into believing they are necessary.

Finding out you got stuck with a fake emotional support animal certificate is a frustrating waste of your time and money and delays the process of actually certifying your emotional support animal. 

Companies that offer emotional support animal certification or registration are likely not legitimate. The only legal way to certify an emotional support animal is an ESA letter from a health professional — there is no database or registry of emotional support animals.

Other Illegitimate Forms of ESA Verification

Another method some companies use to look like they provide emotional support animal verification is by providing a whole bunch of other items — items that aren’t actually necessary for an ESA and don’t prove legitimacy whatsoever. Some of these items include identification cards or tags, vests, harnesses, or certificates stating your ESA has been added to a ‘registry.’

How Do You Get an Emotional Support Animal the Right Way?

To get an emotional support animal, first, you must be diagnosed with a qualifying disability. This can include but isn’t limited to conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), certain phobias, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Once you’ve been diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional (LMHP), they can provide you with an emotional support animal letter.

What is an ESA Letter?

An emotional support animal letter functions much like a prescription. It documents your disability and your need for an emotional support animal as part of your plan to manage your condition(s).

What Makes an ESA Letter Legitimate?

An emotional support animal letter is considered legitimate when it’s written by a licensed health professional on official letterhead. It has to include contact information and the license number of the clinician providing the letter, and it must include specific language regarding your disability and needs for an ESA. 

An example graphic of an ESA letter containing the issuing clinicians licensing information.
An example of what a legitimate ESA letter should look like.

What Should Be on an ESA Letter?

Think of an ESA letter as a prescription for care. A legitimate emotional support animal letter has to include certain information about your disability and needs for an ESA, but it doesn’t have to include specific details. 

A legitimate ESA letter should first state that you have a disability that qualifies for an ESA. It should also include a direct recommendation for an emotional support animal, and state that in the provider’s professional opinion, you would benefit from having an ESA.

Things to Look Out for When Getting an ESA Letter Online

Knowing what to look for to make sure the company you choose will provide you with a legal, legitimate ESA letter will help you make sure the job gets done right the first time.

Instant Turnaround

Companies that offer emotional support animal letters with an instant turnaround are something to watch out for. The process of getting a legitimate ESA letter takes time to gather information, consult with a health professional, and provide complete, correct information in the letter.

Lack of a Virtual/Phone Consultation

In order for an issued ESA letter to be legitimate, individuals are required to have a consultation with a licensed health professional. This can be a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or other licensed mental health professional (LMHP), but a consultation must take place in order for an issued ESA letter to be considered legitimate. Some states actually require more than one consultation, and states like California and Montana require a minimum of a 30-day relationship between client and clinician to issue a legitimate ESA letter.

Mental Health Professionals with Improper Licensing

There may be companies out there who try to provide care with completely unlicensed health professionals, and these are definitely companies to watch out for. More often you may see companies that are striving to seem legitimate but have clinicians that aren’t properly licensed or licensed in the wrong state. No practitioner can practice in all 50 states with one license. While they can practice in more than one state, they have to be individually licensed by that state to do so.

Unnecessary Products/Services

While emotional support animal ‘accessory’ items might make it clear your animal is ESA, they don’t make your ESA any more legitimate. Vests, badges, harnesses, identification cards, or offering to provide a certificate or proof of registry are all unnecessary for a legitimate ESA — the only thing you need is an emotional support animal letter provided by a reputable agency like Pettable

What is an Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal or ESA is an assistance animal that supports individuals with mental health conditions. They provide their owners emotional support, companionship, and comfort with their presence.

Unlike service animals such as psychiatric service dogs, who require individualized training that directly supports disability-related challenges, emotional support animals don’t require specific training to be considered a legitimate ESA.

Meet the author:
April Brightman

April Brightman is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for traveling and hiking with her rescue pup, Marley. She's written for pet-centered sites like Outward Hound, as well as outdoorsy adventure brands like BearVault, Hipcamp, and Explorer Chick.

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