Report Finds the Majority of Puppy Ads Online Are From Scammers

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Kanetria Hutcherson was looking for a puppy for her 10-year-old daughter after her cat disappeared. She began searching online for a small dog to join the family in their California apartment.  She found one through the a classified ad site. A family was looking to rehome two of their puppies, one being a yorkie, because they travelled too much and couldn’t devote time to their dogs, according to the Better Business Bureau.

The family sent a picture of the puppy. Hutcherson was smitten. She connected with the owner, who asked for $195 to be wired through MoneyGram for shipping. Soon after she received an email from what appeared to be Delta Air Cargo asking for $240, as the puppy needed a special crate for the plane. Again, she wired money.

Related: Man Finds His Stolen Dog When Searching for New Pet Online

The next day, she received another email. This time she was told she needed to pay $980 for health insurance. Frustrated, Hutcherson asked why all this wasn’t disclosed in the beginning. The seller retaliated, threatening to call the FBI and have Hutcherson charged with animal abandonment if she didn’t fork over the money.

The money requests didn’t stop. Hutcherson received emails asking for $200 from “Delta,” $150 for food and water and $1,900 to have the puppy quarantined.

Before catching on to the scam, Hutcherson spent $968. After never receiving the “free puppy,” her daughter cried herself to sleep and Hutcherson struggled with paying the bills. She filed a complaint with the FBI and the BBB.

Scammers aren’t just peddling a family dog. Others, claiming to be breeders, are also in on the scheme.

Yahong Zheng was looking to get two puppies for his son. After wiring $1,200 for two husky dogs through the site,  the Nebraska resident realized he had been scammed. When he stopped sending money, the seller told him the puppies would die if he didn’t continue paying.

“NEVER pay by money wiring, and NEVER pay for a puppy unless you’ve seen it IN PERSON,” Zheng told the Better Business Bureau in a report.

The report highlights that these aren’t isolated situations, but rather the norm when purchasing a puppy through an online ad.. The organization believes that at least 80 percent of pet ads online are scams.

Related: In China, Vendors are Scamming People With ‘Tiger Dog’ Breed

While the victims’ age runs the gamut, the BBB pointed out that many are in their late 20s, which makes sense. This generation was raised on the internet, is more apt to buy online and also are the demographic that owns the most pets (followed by Baby Boomers). The average loss for these victims is $300, but the range tends to be between $100 and $1,000.

The main way people are getting scammed is by wiring money through Western Union and MoneyGram, with many fraudsters coming from Cameroon in West Africa. The criminals will set up fake websites, scan the web for legitimate photos of puppies (often from breeders’ sites) write (or copy) text about the dog. When a buyer is interested, they will start asking for small amounts of money for things like crates, health insurance and travel. But as people commit more and become more invested in the dog, the cash requests can increase.

The best way to avoid these scams is to never send money to someone online, including wire transfers. Also, you should meet the dog in person. Not only will this help you ensure that a puppy actually exists, but you can make sure you are getting your dog from a reputable breeder – and not a puppy mill, or a commercial breeding organization focused on profit over the health and well-being of a dog. Keep in mind, almost all legitimate breeders will want to meet potential owners to ensure their puppy is going to a good home.

There are also millions of homeless dogs looking for homes through shelters and adoption is another option.

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