ASHEVILLE – Demand for ‘quarantine puppies’ and other pets increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an increase in scams that persisted even as virus lockdowns abated.
Online pet scams – in which an online search ends with a potential pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to adopt a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist – are particularly prevalent. during the holiday season when families can look to add a furry family member as a gift. Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises extreme caution when purchasing a pet online.
In addition to a shortage of available puppies due to high demand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suspended imports of dogs into the United States from 100 countries deemed at high risk for rabies. The United States imports 1 million dogs each year.
People who currently buy pets online are very likely to come across a fraudulent ad in an online ad or on a website. Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid heartache and waste their money.
BBB Scam Tracker online shopping scam reports have exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pet scams account for 35% of those reports in 2021. Although reports of scams on pets are down slightly from 2020, they are expected to double this year. compared to 2019, and more than four times more than in 2017, when BBB published its first online puppy scam investigative study.
Scammers often take advantage of the high demand during the holidays by posting pictures of pets wearing Christmas hats and other gear. When a potential pet parent pursues registration, the scammer refuses to let the consumer meet the pet before purchasing – often claiming this is due to COVID-19 considerations. The scammer claims he must use a pet delivery agency, often an airline. BBB Scam Tracker has received numerous reports of bogus web pages masquerading as real companies for this purpose. The scammer may also charge a fee for vaccinations or other last minute “needs”. In the end, the animal does not exist, and the consumer has lost money and emotional investment.
The largest group of victims by age is the 25-35 age group, followed by the 35-44 age group. The average financial loss reported to Scam Tracker was $ 1,088. While 82% of scam reports involving pets involved dogs, others reported cats, birds and iguanas.
The tactics used in pet-related scams continue to evolve. Crooks increasingly demand payment through hard-to-find cash apps like Zelle, Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo, and Apple Pay. A review of Scam Tracker data revealed that the vast majority of reports mentioned Zelle as a payment method involving the purchase of pets online.
A Shelby woman said she lost $ 350 just this week when she tried to buy a puppy online. The woman told BBB Scam Tracker that she paid a deposit of $ 350 through a prepaid card and was supposed to meet the seller in person, no one showed up. The seller then asked for additional funds for the injections and transportation, and when the woman refused, they threatened to throw the puppy in the trash.
Law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad have worked to apprehend the pet crooks. In December 2020, the US Department of Justice announced criminal proceedings against a Cameroonian national living in Romania; among other tactics, the suspect claimed the pets he was selling had COVID-19 and asked potential buyers to purchase a “vaccine guarantee document.”
BBB recommendations for buying pets online:
- See the animal in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the animal for sale. Since the crooks are unlikely to comply with the request, this can help prevent a scam.
- Reverse image search of the animal’s photo and look for a distinctive phrase in the description.
- Do some research to get an idea of the right price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a very discounted price… it could be a fraudulent offer.
- Check out a local animal shelter online for animals you may encounter before adopting.