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Puppy Scams come back, bite hard thanks to COVID-19

Posted at 2:05 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 14:05:06-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- You’re not the only one convinced now would be the perfect time to bring a new pet in your home. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning that scammers are preying on potential pet owners.

“The coronavirus pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why they can’t see the pet in person before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned,” a BBB spokesperson shared.

The BBB Scam Tracker showed puppy scams have spiked with more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.

“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” Barry Moore, President and CEO of BBB serving Central Virginia, said. “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.”

Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance, and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine.

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 sellers copied it from another website.

Don’t send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, and 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 another 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.