Online puppy scams rise

Runnels County Register

BBB of Abilene and The Big Country Warns Consumers of puppy scams.

The below release from the Abilene BBB addresses puppy scams. These puppy scams occur from Abilene to San Angelo and all areas in between.

Dec. 2, 2020 -- The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for pets as people seek pets to ease the loneliness and tension of prolonged time at home. Many feel that they now have more time to train a puppy. With this demand has come a spike in pet scams, in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to purchase a pet that ultimately does not exist. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises caution when shopping for a pet online, especially in light of scammers. Soon after cities and states began to impose tighter restrictions to curb the spread of COVID, BBB Scam Tracker saw a spike in pet fraud reports, with nearly 4,000 reports received in 2020 from the U.S. and Canada. The COVID bump is continuing into the holiday season with consumers reporting 337 complaints to BBB about puppy scams in November 2020, a dramatic increase from 77 for November 2019. The median loss reported to Scam Tracker in 2020 is $750.

The Abilene Better Business Bureau projects over $3,000,000 in losses from pet scams in 2020.

Law enforcement says a person searching online for a pet is extremely likely to encounter a scam listing or website. The pandemic has given scammers a new tool. Scam Tracker reports show many fraudsters telling would-be pet owners they cannot meet the animals before sending money. Petscams.com, which tracks and exposes these scams, recommends using another tool popularized by COVID, video conferencing, to meet the animal and owner virtually before buying as a way of reducing scam vulnerability.

“A ‘quarantine puppy’ has proven to be a comfort for many during COVID, but also fertile ground for fraudsters,” said John Riggins, BBB of Abilene president and CEO. “People shopping for pets online are targets for fraudsters. Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid heartache and losing money.”

At this pace, pet scams reported to the BBB will be nearly five times as many as in 2017, when the BBB published its first in-depth investigative study on pet scams. The projected dollar loss from these scams is expected to top $3 million, more than six times the total losses reported in 2017.

With increase in scam activity, Scam Tracker data indicates that mobile payment apps like Zelle and CashApp are often used, whereas Western Union or MoneyGram wire transfers were popular in the 2017 study. Zelle and CashApp have issued warnings about pet scams. Scammers commonly use online advertising such as sponsored links to boost fraudulent listings in search results.

The 2017 study noted that most scammers are unable to process credit cards. Although some scammers use fraudulent forms to collect credit card information. Victims may receive a message stating the card was declined. Scammers then direct buyers to send money a different way. But now the scammers have stolen the credit card number and use these cards to fund their scams. Buyers using credit cards need to monitor their statements.

One Abilene resident lost several hundred dollars to a Pet Scam after responding to an ad on Craigslist for a seller who first claimed to be in Abilene but later claimed to have relocated elsewhere. The consumer reported to the BBB of Abilene and The Big Country: “They requested I purchase a crate. It would be refundable, but I'd have to send them a gift card and then get back cash when they brought the cat. I questioned them why they would want a gift card and they claimed it was due to COVID and only taking payment online.” Soon after, the consumer reported: “I got another email saying: ‘They require that a travel insurance coverage for your male Bengal kitten must be paid before they can be driven to your home madame.’ They wanted another $350 gift card.”

In addition to telling buyers they cannot meet a pet because of the pandemic, fraudsters have made COVID-related requests for items such as special crates, insurance and vaccines, according to Scam Tracker reports. There also were instances where purchasers wanted to pick up the pet but were told that wasn’t possible due to COVID.

A second Big Country resident reported on BBB’s Scam Tracker: “They said I just needed to pay $700 for my puppy and they would deliver her; then, I needed to buy a special crate; then, I needed to by vaccines. Where I put my foot down was insurance to fly the puppy to me. I tried getting in touch with them and they stopped emailing.”

While puppies are the most common pet scams, 12% of the BBB’s pet scam complaints were about cats. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data shows that scams involving kittens have more than doubled since 2017. The FTC also received 185 reports of parrots being ordered but not delivered during the first half of 2020. There have been a few law enforcement actions against pet scammers since the BBB’s previous study. For instance, a man was arrested in Minnesota for pet fraud in 2019.

BBB recommendations for buying pets online:

· See the seller and pet in person or via video call before paying. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request.

· Do a reverse image search of the pet photo.

· Do price research for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred for a deeply discounted price.

· Check local animal shelters for pets.

Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam: · Petscams.com - petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogues scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent websites taken down. · Better Business Bureau - BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam.

· Your credit card issuer - if you provided your credit card number.

The BBB is a nonprofit organization that upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior, providing BBB Business Profiles, charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information. Visit the BBB of Abilene and The Big Country webpage at https://www.bbb.org/us/tx/abilene/news for information. To see the City of Abilene’s COVID Dashboard, go to: https://abilenetx.gov/covid19.