LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) — Buyers beware, a new scam is targeting those who are looking to bring home a new four-legged friend during the COVID-19 outbreak.
CEO and President of Better Business Bureau Arkansas Janet Robb says they’ve seen an uptick in puppy scams since the pandemic began.
Scammers advertise on websites, including social media platforms, selling animals that don’t exist and/or are never shipped once partial payment is taken.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why they can’t see the pet in person before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned. Puppy scams like these were the subject of a 2017 in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau (BBB), and they are prolific during the holidays. New data from BBB Scam Tracker shows that these scams have spiked since COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., with more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.
“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” said Janet Robb, BBB president and CEO. “The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decision to adopt a pet sight unseen has created fertile ground for fraudsters.”
Robb encourages people to reach out for any suspicious puppy sale, even if it simply a person-to-person transaction.
“Before you do business with someone that you don’t know or you don’t have a history with reach out to the Better Business Bureau,” says Robb. “That’s what we are here for we are here to help. Let us help you. Don’t be a good victim. Take your time. Do your research and contact the BBB.”
There have been more than 30 animal-related sales scams and close to $28,000 reported lost in 2020. The BBB is investigating these scams.
BBB’s earlier Study found that for these types of frauds to be successful it’s usually dependent on bogus, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an Internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
Actual numbers of pet fraud may be much higher than reported, because many victims either choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help.
Many victims who contacted BBB’s Scam Tracker reported they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation and brighten their lives during the pandemic.
Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There also were several instances where the consumer wanted to see or pick-up the animal but was told that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
An Arkansas woman reported losing more than $1,750 to a puppy scammer in April 2020. She said the seller agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $600, then wanted an extra $150 for shipping, and additional funds for a special crate. Once the funds were sent, she never heard from the “seller’ again and attempts to contact the seller have been unsuccessful.
Another Arkansan paid up front through Cashapp for a goldendoodle puppy. When she was notified they needed an extra $710 for a special crate, she declined to send additional funds but has been unable to contact them about a refund of the initial payment. He reported, “They told me I needed to pay extra for a special crate that was temperature controlled due to ‘current weather conditions and the need to keep the puppy safe’. They really play on your emotions.”
Tips for avoiding puppy scams:
● Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, its likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
● Don’t send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, and a cash app like Zelle or a gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Fraudsters may claim to accept credit cards, but may steal your credit card information to use it in other scams or inform you that payment didn’t go through and request the payment via wire service or gift cards.
● Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If a purebred dog is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, and then other payment is required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
● Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Especially during this time of quarantine, many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal’s stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters.
● If you think you have been scammed, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. You also can report it to petscams.com, which catalogues puppy scammers, tracks complaints and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.