The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a rise in “fake pet and puppy scams” online.
In a news alert Thursday, the BBB said it has found “a slew of heart-tugging ads” for new pets online. Many are scams, the BBB said.
The BBB has fielded nearly 16,000 complaints about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets.
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 Marjorie Stephens, president and CEO of BBB serving Northern Indiana. “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.