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Scams Create Puppy Heartbreak

Stay Alert for Online Pet Sales Fraud

For many families, the pandemic has been an ideal time to research and purchase a new pet. It has also created fertile ground for fraudsters, and people shopping for pets online are prime targets. Learn the red flags of this scam, and you can save your family heartache and financial loss. 

As is the case with most scams, an increase in demand for a certain product comes with a spike in fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, a would-be pet owner’s online search might result in the loss of hundreds or even thousands of dollars as consumers have reported purchasing a pet that doesn’t exist or isn’t the breed they thought they
were buying.

That’s why the BBB advises extreme caution when shopping for a pet online, especially in light of scammers’ ever-evolving tactics.

In 2020, the Scam Tracker (a free service at BBB.org) recorded an uptick in pet fraud reports with nearly 4,000 reports from the U.S. and Canada. This rate of pet scams has continued into 2021. The median loss reported was $750 per scam, collectively running into millions of dollars annually – more than six times the total losses reported in 2017. Shoppers aged thirty-five to fifty-five accounted for half of these pet scam reports.

The pandemic has set the stage for scammers and provided new tools in the arsenal to swindle prospective pet owners. Pet scammers most often tell would-be pet owners that due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, they cannot meet the animals before sending money. Petscams.com, which tracks and exposes these scams, recommends using video conferencing to at least meet the animal and owner virtually before buying to help reduce scam vulnerability.

Pet scammers often use mobile payment apps like Zelle and CashApp; both of these popular services have issued their own warnings about pet scams. In addition, pet scammers now commonly use online advertising tools such as sponsored links to boost their fraudulent listings in search results. Scammers also employ the practice of imitating a reputable online resource by changing a single letter or character in a website’s name. 

If you are buying a pet online, follow these recommendations:

• See the pet in person before paying any money. As the rate of vaccination continues and we are traveling more safely and meeting in person, an on-site inspection should be possible for both seller and buyer. If you cannot physically meet the pet, consider a video call so you can see the seller with the actual pet for sale. Since pet scammers are not likely to comply with this simple request, this may help you avoid a scam.
• Do an image search of the photo of the pet online. Pick out a distinctive phrase in the description of the pet and enter it into the browser search field. If your search reveals multiple hits of the same picture of the pet you believe you are purchasing, you know there is trouble.
• Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you’re considering. Be highly suspicious if someone advertises a purebred puppy for free or at a deeply discounted price, especially if it’s an AKC-registered dog. This is likely a scam.
• Ask for recommendations from friends and family members. If families you know have had successful interactions with a seller, follow up with that resource.
• Check out a local animal shelter in person or online for pets you can meet before adopting.

Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:

Petscams.com This website tracks complaints, catalogs puppy scammers, and works to get fraudulent pet sales’ websites taken down.
• Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Reportfraud.ftc.gov is where you file a complaint online. You can also call 877-FTC-Help.
• BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org  Report a scam online here.
• Your credit card issuer if you provided your credit card number for a sale. Report the scam immediately, even if the transaction was not completed.

Barry N. Moore is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia, including Metro Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Petersburg, along with forty-two Virginia counties. Barry lives in Richmond with his family.
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