Better Business Bureau serving Minnesota and North Dakota has seen a recent increase in the number of consumerreported pet scams as scammers take advantage of people who are staying home more and pet shopping online.
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.
Several consumers reported similar experiences: They find a seemingly perfect puppy or kitten for sale online and are asked to wire money to the seller, who often claims to be located across the country. Instead of shipping the puppy to the hopeful buyer, the seller pockets the cash and is never heard from again.
Not only do the scammers finagle money from consumers for the cost of the pet, but some have convinced buyers to pay hefty fees for anything from insurance and climate-controlled crates to a purported COVID-19 vaccine, which doesn’t actually exist.
Consumers also reported wanting to meet or pick up the animal in person but were told that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
To avoid this scam, BBB offers this advice:
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 seller websites, it’s likely a scam.
Don’t trust everything a website claims. Call the American Kennel Club’s customer service line at 919-233-9767 to verify a litter if the owner claims to be associated with the club, or search the club’s site at akc.org.
Don’t ever wire money. A request to wire money is a huge red flag that the transaction is a scam. Wire transfers don’t offer consumer protection in the same way a credit card company can.
Beware of websites or ads with spelling errors. Spelling errors and incorrect grammar are often signs of a scam as many scams originate overseas where English is not the scammer’s first language.
If the price is too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Always be skeptical of sob stories or other justifications for a low price on a pet, especially if the animal is purebred. These offers sound good, but it’s often a bait and switch tactic, where the scammer requests more money later.
Make sure you have a written contract. No matter where you purchase a pet from, be sure you have the terms, conditions and guarantees in writing. Get two references from the breeder. Ask former clients if they were happy with their experience and if any problems arose from the transaction.
To report a scam, go to www.BBB.org/ ScamTracker. You can also report it to www.petscams.com, which catalogues puppy scammers, tracks complaints, and works to get fraudulent pet sale websites taken down.
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