For many, it could be hard to resist the image of a puppy under the tree this Christmas, but officials from the Better Business Bureau say would-be pet owners should beware of falling victim to an online pet scam. Such scams, they say, could cause a buyer to lose thousands of dollars and wind up with nothing to show for it.
The BBB reports that over the past two years online pet scams have more than doubled, thanks in part to an increased demand for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 pet scams made up 35% of reports to the BBB’s Scam Tracker.
More than a dozen northern Nevada residents have fallen prey to pet scammers based on reports in the BBB’s Scam Tracker, each with a similar story.
Sparks resident Lee McDowell-Orozco tried to purchase a puppy in August of this year and lost nearly $4,000 to scammers. According to McDowell-Orozco’s report, the scammers said a special $1,950 crate was needed to protect the dog during shipping. When they received that money, they said an upgrade was required for the crate costing another $2,000.
“No matter what the scammer asks for, the owner ultimately finds that the pet does not exist.”
When the scammers said one more upgrade was required—for $2,000 more—the gig was up. “That was when I realized I had been scammed,” McDowell-Orozco said.
There are red flags consumers can watch for to avoid being scammed when looking for a pet this holiday season. Scammers often refuse to allow a purchaser to meet the pet before buying and may claim special shipping, supplies or medication are required.
These are all a ruse to get shoppers to hand over money in the hopes of bringing home a cute pet, said BBB President Jane Rupp. They’ll also request payment via cash apps such as Zelle, Venmo, Google Pay or Cash App, which can be impossible to trace.
“No matter what the scammer asks for, the owner ultimately finds that the pet does not exist,” said Rupp. “Unfortunately, that means the consumer has not only lost money—but also the emotional investment they put into hoping and planning for this new pet.”
The BBB suggests pet-shoppers follow these tips to avoid scams:
- See the pet in-person, or request a video call with the pet and seller. “Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam,” BBB officials said.
- Reverse search the pet photo and use a search engine to look up any distinctive phrases in the listing. If the images or phrases are found in multiple places, it’s likely a scam.
- Do your research to know a fair price for what you’re purchasing. The BBB advises that if it’s free or deeply discounted, it’s likely a scam. Things that are too good to be true usually are.
- Adopt an animal from a local shelter instead, or find a reputable breeder from sites like AKC.org.