The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning the public about the proliferation of puppy scams.
The BBB says puppy scams are common during the holidays and now, while people are obeying stay-at-home orders and looking for a furry companion, they may come across scammers who advertise online for animals that don't exist and are never delivered.
The coronavirus pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for more money or explain why a pet can't be seen in-person.
The BBB says new data from its Scam Tracker show that these scams have spiked since COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S., with more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year.
According to the BBB, a Santa Barbara woman reported losing more than $6,000 to a puppy scammer. She said the dog originally cost $600 but the so-called breeder continued to ask for more money for things like a better transport carrier, accommodation fees, and other items, and the puppy was never delivered.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to avoid a puppy scam:
- 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, it 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, 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 animals' stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters.