CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning people to be aware of puppy scams, where someone advertises on websites for animals for sale that don’t exist, after two such scams were reported in West Virginia.
The release stated that due to the amount of time people are spending at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some families have turned to the internet to look for a new pet, since they would have plenty of time to help a new pet adjust to its new surroundings. However, many have come across scammers who advertise pets for sale that don’t exist, and are therefor never given to the consumer.
BBB officials said that the COVID-19 pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why consumers can’t see the pet in person, before the would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned.
The release stated that puppy scams like this were the subject of a 2017 in-depth investigative study by 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,” said Frank Cilona, 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 officials said that its earlier study found that when these types of frauds are 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, according to the release.
The release stated that many victims who contacted BBB’s Scam Tracker reported that they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation and brighten their lives during the pandemic. According to the release, victims are 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.
A puppy scam like this occurred in West Virginia, when a Kanawha County woman thought she had found a puppy breeder in South Charleston selling Teacup Cockapoo and Cavpoo puppies for $450, according to the release. Officials said that when she inquired what what vet the breeder used to treat the puppies, she was given the name of a vet in New York, which did not check out upon calling the phone number given. She asked for pictures of the parents of the puppies and was given pictures of Saint Bernard’s. With these inconsistencies, fortunately she knew to cease communication with the breeder and submitted a scam tracker report instead, so BBB could conduct further investigation the outfit.
Another scammer posed as a breeder by using a fake Wheeling address to lure victims into their puppy scam, according to the release. BBB has received two scam tracker reports to date, each stating they have paid upwards of $630 for a puppy. They were told that due to COVID-19, no in-person pick-ups were allowed, so all puppies were being shipped. Payments were instructed to be through Western Union or Venmo. Both consumers stated after they were told to speak to the shipping company, all contact ceased with the breeder.
Officials said that consumers allege the shipping company offered many excuses to delay the puppy’s arrival, including paying more money for insurance, the need for an electric crate and upgrades to the crate. However, both consumers refused to pay any more money. The release stated that the seller and the shipper subsequently both turned out to be fraudulent, and neither party received refunds or their puppy.
The release from the BBB included the following tips to help consumers avoid 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, MoneyGram, 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.
- 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.