Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.
Puppies have always been a popular holiday gift, and since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the demand for puppies has increased dramatically. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of that demand and are selling non-existent dogs online to their unsuspecting victims. According to the Better Business Bureau, 35 percent of the complaints to the BBB’s scam tracker involving online shopping were about online pet sale scams last year. According to the BBB, Americans and Canadians lost 3.2 million dollars last year to pet scams.
Puppy fraud had already increased dramatically in the last few years, but really took off during the Coronavirus pandemic when many people were looking for the emotional support of a loving dog. Scammers often have a website or some other way of marketing their non-existent pets with photographs and false information. Often they hook their victims for more and more money; after the victim has paid for the non-existent dog, they are asked to pay for additional items such as a special crate and additional transportation company fees.
Recently, according to ABC Action News Tampa Bay, dog lover Kerri McIntosh fell victim to this scam when she responded to an ad for a Doberman puppy that was being offered for sale on a Facebook dog lover’s group. The price was $1,300, which is reasonable for a purebred Doberman, and included shipping of the dog. However, immediately after paying for the dog through a digital payment app, the “breeder” said she needed $750 more for a special crate. This request was followed up with requests for more money for vaccinations, insurance, and necessary permits. In the end, McIntosh paid the scammers $4,800 and received nothing in return.
Just like we were told in school, it is important to do your homework. Check out any breeder from whom you are considering buying a puppy. Good breeders will have many positive reviews online. Get information about your dog’s lineage and health records and screenings. Scammers are less apt to take the time to forge such detailed records.
Always check into the reputation of the breeder with the Better Business Bureau and your state’s attorney general. You can even Google the name of the breeder with the word “scam” to see if a legitimate breeder’s name has been stolen for previous scams.
It’s simple for a scammer to join a social media dog group, go on Craigslist, or construct a website that appears to be legitimate. And scammers can readily steal the name of a legitimate animal breeder; even if you research the name of a breeder, you will need to further investigate if the person is who they says they are.
Be wary of anyone who asks you to wire money, which is a telltale sign of a scam; once the money is wired, it’s impossible to get it back. Digital payment apps such as Zelle and Venmo should never be used for retail business payments because it is very difficult to retrieve funds in the event of fraud. Payments by gift cards are another tipoff that it’s a scam. Gift cards are never used or asked for as payment by legitimate breeders.
If you are told that a courier company is being used to transport the animal, check out the company to make sure it is legitimate and actually shipping the dog.
Make sure that cute photo of your pup is legitimate. Use reverse image lookup like tineye to check if “your” dog appears elsewhere other than your breeder’s website. If so, this is a good indication that you are being scammed. Also, always get a veterinarian report on any animal before you consider buying it. Finally, you are always going to be better off buying a pet that you can see in person.
Pet scammers generally prefer to communicate through email; however, you should insist upon a video chat where you can see both the seller and the dog.
Some phony breeders claim they are certified by the American Kennel Club (AKC), but the AKC doesn’t certify breeders. Legitimate breeders will, however, register their litters with the AKC. You can find out if a particular litter has been registered by calling the AKC’s customer service line 919-233-9767.
A good place that you can trust to start your online search for a puppy is the American Kennel Club’s AKC Marketplace. The AKC inspects and evaluates thousands of kennels annually and is the only reliable online source for information about all of the litters registered with the AKC.
You also might want to consider getting a dog from a local animal shelter where you can both get a great pet and give an animal in need a loving home.
Featured image: Shutterstock
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