Nashville, TN – The demand for “quarantine puppies” and other pets increased dramatically during the COVID-19 Cornavirus pandemic, bringing with it a spike in scams that has persisted even as virus-related lockdowns have abated.
Online pet scams — in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to adopt a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist — are especially pervasive during the holiday season, when families may be looking to add a furry family member as a gift. Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises extreme caution if shopping for a pet online.
“People shopping for pets online are very likely to encounter scam listings online,” says Robyn Householder, President, and CEO of BBB Serving Middle TN & Southern KY. “Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help people avoid heartache and losing their money.”
Online shopping scam reports to BBB Scam Tracker have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pet scams make up 35% of those reports in 2021. While pet scam-related reports are down slightly from 2020, they are expected to be double this year to those in 2019, and more than four times as many as 2017, when BBB published its first investigative study about online puppy scams.
Scammers frequently capitalize on high demand during the holidays by posting pictures of pets in Christmas hats and other gear. When a would-be pet parent pursues the listing, the scammer refuses to let the consumer meet the pet before buying – often claiming this is because of COVID-19 considerations. The scammer claims that they must use a pet delivery agency of some kind, often an airline.
BBB Scam Tracker has received many reports of fake web pages impersonating real businesses for this purpose. The scammer also may demand fees for vaccinations or other last-minute “needs.” Ultimately, the pet does not exist, and the consumer has lost money and emotional investment.
The largest group of victims by age are those 25-35, followed by those 35-44. The average financial loss reported to Scam Tracker was $1,088. While 82% of pet scam reports involved dogs, other reports included cats, birds, and iguanas.
The tactics used in pet scams continue to evolve. Scammers increasingly ask for payment through untraceable cash apps such as Zelle, Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo, and Apple Pay. A review of Scam Tracker data finds that the vast majority of reports listed Zelle as the payment method involving the purchase of online pets.
A Middle Tennessee woman told BBB Scam Tracker in December 2021 that she paid a $200.00 deposit for a puppy she had seen on social. The day she was going to meet the puppy, the seller sent her texts letting her know she owed an extra $200.00 and would only accept gift cards for that amount. The women realized this was not a legitimate transaction and lost over $400.00.
Pet scams are a worldwide problem, with the United Kingdom and Australia reporting large increases in pet scam complaints in 2020 and 2021. Many pet scams originate in Cameroon, according to data from Petscams.com, which tracks and catalogs puppy scams.
Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad have worked to apprehend pet scammers. In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice announced criminal charges against a Cameroonian national living in Romania; among other tactics, the suspect had claimed the pets he was selling had COVID-19 Coronavirus and required would-be buyers to purchase a “vaccine guarantee document.”
BBB recommendations for buying pets online:
- See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
- Do a reverse image search of the photo of the pet and search for a distinctive phrase in the description.
- Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price … it could be a fraudulent offer.
- Check out a local animal shelter online for pets you can meet before adopting.
- BBB urges more law enforcement action against pet scammers.
- The media and public should help to educate those looking for pets online by sharing BBB’s tips and study.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:
- Petscams.com – petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogs puppy scammers, and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877.FTC.Help.
- Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam online.
- Your credit card issuer – report the incident if you shared your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed.
About BBB of Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands, and charities they can trust. BBB provides objective advice, BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information.
There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB Serving Middle TN and Southern KY, which was founded in 1961 and serves 45 counties in Middle TN and Southern KY.
Visit bbb.org for more information.