During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in families welcoming a dog into their homes. Maybe too significant. Indeed, shelters, rescues and breeders have been unable to keep up with the demand, resulting in the seedy world of puppy scams.
Because of the shortage, desperate people are going elsewhere to try and find a family dog to provide support and comfort during these unprecedented times. They are turning to Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or other classified platforms to try and find the perfect family member. And scammers are taking note.
Ads are popping up showing cute puppies for sale. People are posting that they need to rehome their dog. Supposed dog breeder websites are launching with fake reviews raving about their purchase. They all share one big red flag: a down payment of some sort. Some scammers ask for money upfront to hold a puppy, pay for the shipping or cover the cost of a special climate-controlled crate, while others request a fee for rehoming. They also tend to come up with a litany of excuses as why people can’t meet the dog in-person, often falling back on COVID-19 restrictions.
There have been 2,166 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 700 during the same period last year, according to the Better Business Bureau. The organization says experts believe 80 percent of the ads that pop-up are fraudulent. It also states that the scam tends to cost people $700 and is considered the riskiest scam, according to its BBB Risk Index.
One woman reported that she lost more than $1,100 in two different puppy scams. The first incident, taking place in April, involved a seller agreeing to sell her a pug for $500, including shipping. All she needed to do was send the seller a prepaid Walmart gift card and the dog would be hers. Unfortunately, the dog never appeared. A similar incident happened with another pug puppy, except a third-party shipper contacted her to pay for a climate-controlled crate. After splitting the fee, the woman waited. Again, the pug never showed up.
“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I’m a highly educated person, but I’ve never felt so stupid in my entire life.”
For those looking to avoid these scams, the BBB has a few tips:
Always ask to see the dog in person. Not only will this help you avoid scammers, but reputable breeders require this; they want their dogs to find good homes.
Research the text and photos being used. You can copy and paste the text into Google to see if it was used in other places. Google also lets you do a reverse image lookup to see if the picture has been used on other sites.
Don’t use payment options that provide no seller protection. Gift cards, wire transfers and cash apps can leave buyers vulnerable as once the money is gone, there is no way of getting it back. Also, be wary of providing your credit card details to people, as they can use the sensitive information for other scams.
Consider rescues and shelters. While the demand has increased, that doesn’t mean there aren’t dogs looking for their forever homes. It may take a little bit more time, but it will be worth the wait.