If you are shopping online for a pet this holiday season, watch out for scams. Complaints continue to pour into Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Scam Tracker as fake pet and puppy scams are on the increase.
Scammers know that few things pull at a person’s heartstrings like an adorable puppy. And as consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, they will be met with a slew of heart-tugging ads. A BBB study found that many of the ads are scams, and anyone looking online for a pet is extremely likely to encounter one.
Reports have increased 39% since 2017 when BBB first alerted consumers about the problem in the in-depth investigative study, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers.”
In the last three years, BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets on a national level. The FTC estimates only about 10% of victims report these crimes – so the problem is likely more widespread. Locally, BBB of Eastern NC has seen an increase in puppy scam reports of online “breeders” claiming addresses in Durham, Cary, Wake Forest and Greenville.
The study notes that in approximately 60% of reports to BBB regarding dog sellers, consumers allegedly never received the pets they purchased. Consumers also complain to BBB about shipping costs, receiving animals with health and/or genetic problems and not receiving proper documentation for the pet.
How the Scam Works
You find an adorable puppy on a website or an online ad. Sometimes, scammers claim they are breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved dog. Either way, once you inquire about the pet, they ask you to wire money through such services as Western Union or Moneygram to complete the purchase.
The “seller” then promises your pet will be shipped right away. But there are always unexpected problems. Scammers use a variety of excuses, like saying the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance — all of which need to be paid in advance. With each problem, scammers promise that they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered. In many cases, the pet is never delivered and neither is the refund.
“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations,” says Mallory Wojciechowski, president, and CEO of BBB serving Eastern North Carolina. “The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet.”
Tips to Protect Yourself from Pet Scams:
Try to meet your potential pet in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit. Also, remember your local shelter and consider adopting a rescue animal that you can meet and interact with in person.
Never send money to companies or people you don’t know and trust. Once the money is wired, it is gone for good. The same goes for prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. If anyone asks you to pay for anything with a gift card, you may be dealing with fraud. Petscams.com has also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system.
Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.
Check out the website. Go to petscams.com to see if a site selling pets is bogus.
Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and do an internet search on the breeder’s or organization’s name.
If you have been a victim or see a puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.
For more information you can trust, visit bbb.org.