The holidays are a popular season for bringing home a pet, but the idea of cuddling with a new puppy or kitten can leave consumers vulnerable to a growing number of pet scams, according to an alert issued this week by the Better Business Bureau.
The warning follows a 2017 BBB investigation that found an increase of online pet scams in the U.S., with an “unusually high” number of scams targeting people in their late teens or 20s. In the report, experts say that at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links that appear in internet searches for pets may be fraudulent.
In the past three years, the BBB has received nearly 10,000 complaints and scam reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and dogs. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that only 10 percent of victims report these types of crimes, meaning that the problem is likely more widespread, according to the BBB.
Of those complaints, about 60 percent of consumers indicated they never received the pets they had purchased. Consumers also said they had received animals with undisclosed health or genetic problems and animals without proper documentation.
According to the BBB, scammers often claim they are breeders or pet sellers, or act like a distraught pet owner in desperate need of a new home for their dog or cat. No matter a scammer’s cover, once an interested person asks about a pet, he or she is immediately asked to wire money to complete the purchase.
Although the “seller” promises to ship the pet right away, a number of “unexpected” issues always arise, according to the BBB. Hopeful pet owners are asked to purchase a specific type of crate that scammers say is required by an airline company, for example, or they’re told that they must pay for an expensive veterinarian exam.
Scammers assure consumers that they will refund each additional cost as soon as the pet is delivered. In many cases, however, the pet never arrives, and neither does the refund.
“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB in Chicago and Northern Illinois, in a statement. “The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgement, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money and hopes for a new pet.”
The BBB offers several tips to protect yourself from pet scams, including:
- Never wire money to people or companies you don’t know and trust.
- Search the internet for a picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple sites, that could indicate a scam.
- Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. Advertisements for dogs at highly discounted prices could be another indicator of fraud.
“Buying a pet is a process and scammers do their best to get straight to your finances,” said Brandi Hunter, vice president of communications for the American Kennel Club, in a statement. “If something sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Responsible sources will take some time and diligence, but it will lead to the best end result of finding the dog that will fit your family.”
Anyone who has been a victim of a puppy scam is encouraged to report it using BBB’s Scam Tracker.