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Warning: Puppy scam reports skyrocket during COVID-19 pandemic 

Puppy scam reports skyrocket during COVID-19

Is that ‘quarantine puppy’ real?

Some families obeying stay-at-home orders have turned to the internet to look for a pet, thinking they would have plenty of time to help the pet adjust to its new surroundings. Many have come across scammers who advertise on websites for animals don’t exist and are never shipped. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why they can’t see thepet 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 the Better Business Bureau, and they are prolific during the ​holidays. New data released this week from the regional BBB office 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 Rick Copelan​,​ Santa Barbara 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.”

​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 alsowere 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.

A Santa Barbara woman reported losing more than $6,000 to a puppy scammer in April 2020. She said that she purchased a puppy for her mother from a so-called breeder,was promised delivery every day but every day they asked for more money. One day they needed more money for a better transport carrier, another for accommodation fees and soon. The puppy buyer told the BBB, “When I said I couldn’t pay, I was guilt tripped that this puppy would be quarantined and I’d still have to pay more, still promising that once I paid the puppy would be delivered.” “A $600 purchase turned into over $6,000 and no puppy.”

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, Money Gram, 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.

 

 



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About the author: News Staff

News staff of the Paso Robles Daily News wrote and edited this story from local contributors and press releases. Scott Brennan is the publisher of this newspaper and founder of Access Publishing. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow his blog. He can be reached at scott@pasoroblesdailynews.com.