BBB warns about surge in online puppy scams

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(The Center Square) – The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about a surge in online puppy scams.

Reports to the organization about internet-based searches that end up with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars for a pet that does not exist have doubled since 2019 and increased five-fold in the past four years. It appears circumstances surrounding the pandemic have fueled many cases.

“I’ve talked to many of these victims and they basically are all saying the same thing,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “During this pandemic, they’re trying to find some companionship. More people are home now, and they feel it’s easier to train a dog because they’re home. And they’re having trouble finding local pets, so they’re going online.”

Bernas says there are ways to know you’re being taken advantage of, including being asked to pay via gift cards or cash apps.

“The tip-off to the rip off is unconventional payment methods,” Bernas said. “What these scammers are doing is saying, ‘Oh, there’s something wrong with our credit card processing’ or ‘Something is wrong with your credit card, can you pay a different way?’ You should use your credit card in any transaction. You have your most protection with a credit card.”

The projected dollar loss from these scams is expected to top $3 million this year, more than six times the reported losses in 2017.

“They always ask for additional funding,” Bernas said. “They don’t stop until you run out of money. About 95% of people don’t realize that until they get to a point where they lost enough, and they realize that dog is not coming to them.”

To avoid becoming a victim, the BBB recommends seeing the pet in person before paying any money and conducting research before entering into any agreement.

“You have to do your due diligence on the breeder,” Bernas said. “Find information about the breeder and make sure they have a track record. The scammer could have started business that morning or that afternoon and will go away in a few days. Not having a track record is a warning sign.”

Bernas said the most recent schemes usually involve puppies, but a fair number of kitten and exotic pet scams are running as well.

“There’s kittens, there’s cats, there’s parakeets, there’s parrots. There’s all sorts of animals,” Bermas said. “And the Better Business Bureau always sees a holiday bump for these types of scams.”

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