The Better Business Bureau has a warning for those shopping online for a pet this holiday season.
Complaints continue to pour in and the agency says pet and puppy scams are on the rise.
Since the bureau first put out a warning about these puppy scams in 2017, reports have increased by 39%, with just under 6,500 projected for this year.
In the last three years, BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets. The FTC estimates only about 10% of victims report these crimes – so the problem is likely more widespread.
Here's how the scam works:
You find an adorable puppy or other pet on a website or ad. The scammer claims they are a breeder or pet seller. Sometimes they even pretend to be a distraught pet owner forced to give up their pet.
Once you reach out to them, they ask you to wire money through Western Union, Moneygram or a similar means.
The "seller" then promises your pet will be shipped right away, but there are always "unexpected problems."
They may tell you the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance, all of which need to be paid in advance. The scammers promise to refund the unexpected cost when your pet is delivered. In most 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 Karen Nalven, president, and CEO of BBB serving West Florida. “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:
- If possible, inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit.
- Never send money via Western Union and Moneygram to people or companies 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.