BBB sees reports of puppy scams ‘skyrocket’ during pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Better Business Bureau says they’ve seen the number of reports regarding puppy scams in Indiana “skyrocket” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BBB says many families obeying stay-at-home orders have turned to the internet in search for a pet with the idea that they would have plenty of time to train the animal and allow it to adjust to its new home. However, far too often, families stumble across scammers who advertise on websites for pets that don’t exist.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given scammers reasons to request more money or why buyers can’t see the pet in person before making a purchase.

“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” said Marjorie Stephens, president and CEO of BBB Serving Northern Indiana. “The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decision to adopt a pet sight unseen has created fertile ground for fraudsters.”

In 2017, the BBB orchestrated an in-depth investigative study into puppy scams and found that, at that time, at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.

New data from BBB Scam Tracker shows puppy scams have have spiked since COVID-19 spread throughout the U.S., with more reports of fraudulent pet websites in April than in January, February and March combined.

The BBB says scam victims were commonly told they needed to send money for “special climate-controlled crates,” insurance and a COVID-19 vaccine, which of course, does not currently exist. Consumers who wanted to see or pick-up the animal were often told that wasn’t possible because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The bureau offers the following 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, its likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Don’t send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, or a cash app like Zelle or a 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. Especially during this time of quarantine, 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 refers consumers to local shelters.
  • If you think you have been scammed, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. You also can report it to petscams.com, which catalogues puppy scammers, tracks complaints and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sale websites taken down.

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