Warn Your Clients: Online Puppy Scams on the Rise

Increasing numbers of people are purchasing pets that do not exist.
Amanda Carrozza
Published: January 15, 2019
An increasing number of would-be pet owners are unwittingly purchasing dogs and cats that do not exist, as reported in a recent BuzzFeed News investigation. The Better Business Bureau also issued an alert ahead of the recent holiday season warning that its Scam Tracker picked up on an increase in people losing money to pet scams toward the end of last year.

This may be information you want to share with your clients.

How Pet Scams Typically Unfold
Most pet scams begin when a potential pet owner starts searching for a specific breed at a steeply discounted price compared with what a breeder or pet store would normally charge. They will then come across a seller who has posted an online listing offering the pet for free if the buyer pays only for the cost of shipping.

These listings typically appear on free websites, such as Craig’s List and Facebook, and include photos and videos (usually stolen) of an adorable pet in need of a home. According to the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA), the listing will remark that the seller is only giving away the pet because of some unforeseen or tragic circumstance—like the death of a family member, moving for a new job, or an apartment that does not allow pets—to further humanize the listing and get buyers to let their guard down.

Once the prospective pet owner agrees to the sale, the scammer will then start to request more money, citing higher-than-anticipated shipping costs, an airline that is requiring a temperature-controlled crate, or the need for more vaccines before the pet can board a plane. These scammers have been known to create fake documents and email exchanges to further validate their bogus claims. If the buyer tries to back out of the transaction, the seller may threaten to report the buyer to animal welfare authorities for abandonment.

Once the money is received, typically through a wire transfer, all communication ceases and the buyer is left with no money and no pet.

How to Protect Yourself
Most people assume that they could never be tricked by an online scam, but logic may fall to the wayside when faced with the promise of an adorable puppy at a low price. The following tips and telltale signs may help one of your clients avoid these online scams.
  1. Be wary of situations that seem too good to be true. If someone is offering to sell a purebred animal for a fraction of the cost that a breeder would normally charge, chances are it is a scam.
  2. Arrange to see the pet in person before agreeing to the sale. This can be difficult if you contact a seller who lives in another state, but it is the only absolute way to prove that the pet exists.
  3. Do not agree to purchases that require a money transfer or payment via prepaid debit and gift cards. Scammers insist on these types of payments because once the money or gift card is sent it cannot be retrieved.
People who are searching for a pet online can visit the IPATA website for a list of hundreds of known websites and email addresses that have been reported as scams.


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