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Better Business Bureau says puppy scams are on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic

An alarming 25% of online scams reported to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker have been pet scams.
Credit: KIII

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — With the popularity of the Internet on the rise, many families turn to different websites and social media when looking for a puppy or kitten.

According to the Better Business Bureau, many scammers have taken advantage of the pandemic and the uncertainty of current events when they target families that are on the hunt for a new furry friend.

Officials from the Better Business Bureau say 1,681 reports of pet scams in the past few months have been reported.

An alarming 25% of online scams reported to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker have been pet scams.

The percentage of people who reported being scammed out of money rose from 68% last year to 70% this year, officials say.

Of course, the actual numbers of pet fraud cases may be much higher because many victims choose not to file complaints or report it to the Better Business Bureau.

One Texas woman reported losing more than $1,100 to two different puppy scammers in April of 2020. 

"She said the first seller agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $500, including shipping and had her pay with a prepaid gift card he instructed her to buy at Walmart. The woman told BBB the seller subsequently notified her that COVID-19 had delayed shipment of the puppy and would not issue her a refund; she tracked the gift card and found that it had already been spent at a Target store in Texas," said officials from the BBB. 

The woman said she finally made contact with another seller who agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $620, including shipping. 

The seller and shipper ultimately both turned out to be scammers, and the woman did not receive a refund or the puppy.

“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I'm a highly educated person, but I've never felt so stupid in my entire life.”

Many victims who contacted BBB’s Scam Tracker say they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation, relieve stress, and brighten their lives during the pandemic.

Tips for avoiding puppy scams:

  • 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's likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Avoid wiring money, or using a cash app or 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. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal's stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States