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 that don’t exist and are never shipped. Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia warns consumers of bogus breeders claiming to be from the Roanoke area.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers a reason 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,” says Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB Serving Western Virginia. “The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decision to adopt a pet, has created fertile ground for fraudsters,” says Wheeler.
BBB’s earlier study found that for these types of frauds to be successful, it’s usually dependent on fake, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believe 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 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.
BBB Scam Tracker has received 517 puppy scam reports, conning over $403,000 total from victims spread across the United States. Virginia alone had 27 puppy scams reported since March 1, 2020 with over $8,000 scammed. Ten of those reports were connected to several fake puppy websites using addresses within the BBB service area. Over 40% of dollars lost in Virginia were from three of the four local victims in our area ($3,450).
A man from the Roanoke area visited a website selling discounted cavalier King Charles spaniel puppies. The “breeder” required $500 for the animal plus and additional $100 to transport the animal from the airport to the residence. The website did not list a physical address or telephone to contact the breeder. The contact telephone number is for “TEXT” only, and they provided an email address. The victim contacted the scammer via email, and correspondence occurred. The initial $600 was sent to the scammer via Wal-Mart money gram service. The following day the scammer stated that he needed an additional $950 for insurance, that was refundable, for air transport services. The victim became suspicious, contacted the police, and reported it to BBB Scam Tracker.
A similar report was filed from a Washington County resident. He lost $850 to a website claiming to sell corgis from Austin, Texas called Quality Pembroke Welsh Corgi, now called Champion Corgi Pups Home.
Another from Washington state, was conned $645 by Dream Boston Terrier. The victim was looking for a Boston terrier puppy for his wife and two children. He reported the business listed a Roanoke physical address. The fake website had a convincing testimonial from his hometown. The payment seemed legitimate, but red flags were noticed once the breeder went dark, not returning any communication.
BBB Offers the Following 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 image appears on multiple websites, it’s 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, prepaid gift ward, or a cash app like Zelle.These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a scam. 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, but another payment is required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
- Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter.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 can also report it to com, which catalogs puppy scammers, tracks complaints, and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.
Report Scams to BBB Scam Tracker
Have you spotted a business or offer that sounds like an illegal scheme or fraud? Whether or not you’ve lost money, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Help us investigate and warn others by reporting what you know. Don’t let others fall victim to scams.