The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker recently issued a consumer warning about a growing number of scams involving online pet shopping, especially for puppies.

While buying a pet from a non-rescue website is generally not a good idea, online purchases of pets increased sharply in 2020, as more people began acquiring animals during the pandemic.

The BBB saw a significant increase in reports about pet frauds, many involving would-be owners paying hundreds of dollars for a pet that did not exist.

According to the BBB, there were around 4,000 pet fraud reports from the US and Canada in 2020, with a marked increase in April, coinciding with the start of Covid stay at home orders.

These scam reports are continuing into this holiday season.  November 2020 saw 337 complaints about puppy scams, as compared to 77 from November 2019.

The BBB reports that the median loss was $750, a significant amount of money during difficult economic times.

Consumer advocates and law enforcement organizations have joined with the BBB to warn potential pet owners about the significant risk of sending money to an unknown online seller.

At the very least, buyers should insist on seeing the puppy in a video conference call before sending money.  The BBB warns that scammers will use fake photographs or pre-recorded videos, so a conference call is somewhat safer.

The BBB also warns consumers that pet scammers will use fake documents like breed paperwork and shipment tracking to fool consumers.

The BBB first began tracking pet scams in 2017, when they saw a total of 884 pet scam reports.  The projected number for 2020 is 4,300, with total financial losses to consumers topping $3 million.

Pet scammers are using tools such as sponsored links to boost their search engine results.  The BBB also notes that certain payment apps (Zelle and CashApp) are warning users about pet scams.  Payment apps are popular among scammers, but some also will attempt to steal credit card numbers or ask for payment in gift cards.

Fraudsters are also adding extra costs to the price of the animal, such as Covid vaccines, which do not exist for pets.  One woman reported being scammed for nearly $2000 for the cost of a non-existent puppy, “reimbursable” insurance, and a special crate.

While puppies make up most pet scams, cats and kittens account for 12% of the total number, with a recent growth in kitten scams.  Parrots are also used in scams.

Buying pets online can be risky.  For those who want to, the BBB offers the following advice:

  • See the pet in person or on a video call before sending money.
  • Do a reverse image search of the pet’s photo.
  • Research the true price of dogs sold by reputable breeders.
  • Check with local animal shelters and rescue groups for adoptable pets.
  • Download and review this BBB study on puppy scams to educate yourself before buying.

What should you do if you are the victim of a pet scam?  You have several options:

Be sure to share this very helpful information from the BBB with your friends and contacts!


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