BBB warns holiday pet buyers about scams
Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises extreme caution when purchasing a pet online. According to BBB scam tracker, reports of online shopping scams have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pet scams account for 35% of those reports in 2021. Although reports of animal scams companies are down slightly from 2020, they are expected to double this year from those reported in 2019, and more than four times as many were reported in 2017, when BBB released its first investigative study of online puppy scams.
Scammers often take advantage of the high demand during the holiday season 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 citing 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 tactics used in pet 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 BBB Scam Tracker data found that most reports mentioned Zelle as a payment method involving the purchase of pets online.
Law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad have worked to catch pet con artists. In December 2020, the US Department of Justice announced criminal charges against a Cameroonian citizen 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. Consider a video call with the seller if you are concerned about meeting in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This way you can see the seller and the animal for sale. More often than not, the crooks will not comply with the request and help to avoid a scam.
- Perform reverse image search of the photo of the animal and look for a distinctive phrase in the description.
- Research the breed to get an idea of the right price you consider. Think twice if someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a very discounted price… it could be a fraudulent offer.
- Discover a local animal shelter so that the animals meet in person before adopting.
- BBB calls for more law enforcement action against pet crooks.
- The media and the public should help educate those looking for pets online sharing BBB tips and to study.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:
- Petscams.com – petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, lists puppy scammers, and works to remove scam pet sales websites.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
- Better Business Bureau – BBB scam tracker to report a scam online.
- Your credit card issuer – report the incident if you have shared your credit card number, even if the transaction has not been completed.
Suggest a correction