There's been a lot of pandemic puppy love happening this year as many families taking advantage of the time at home to get a pet.
But fraudsters are taking advantage of the pandemic, telling buyers they can't meet the animals before sending money. The Better Business Bureau says puppy and kitten scams have more than doubled this year, with projected losses for victims in 2020 expected to top $3 million.
“Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person,” says Paula Fleming of the BBB. “I am fully aware that we are in the middle of a pandemic, so it makes it extremely difficult to go across state lines.”
NBC Bay Area Responds
Got a consumer problem? Call 1-888-996-TIPS. We respond to every call, every e-mail.
Erica Wilsen was excited about the cute Shih Tzu puppy she had found online and made the arrangements to buy it via email.
“We had chosen a dog. She was a puppy obviously, she was just the right age and she was white and brown,” Wilsen said.
The supposed seller was “convincing and they were very detailed and said, this is the service we are going to use to send you the dog, this is how you can send us the money and put a deposit down. They a were telling me about flying with a Shih Tzu,” Wilsen recalled.
But once she sent $575 via a cash app, she never heard from the seller again.
To avoid being scammed, Fleming suggests asking if it’s possible to do a Zoom meeting so you can see the animal and meet the breeder.
If the seller only provides photos, do a reverse image search to see the history of the photo. Research the price of the pet you're interested in and beware of any site offering deep discounts or any seller who will only communicate via email.
And be wary of added charges. According to the BBB, victims have reported being asked to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and COVID vaccines.
These sellers play on emotions and vulnerability, Fleming said.
“You have to be sure you know who you are dealing with on the other end, so research, research, research, whether it is a breeder, a business or an adoption agency,” she said. “You want to make sure that you check them out and you can do so with the FTC, at bbb.org and you can do so with the AKC.“
Wilsen is holding off on getting a dog after her experience.
“I just think that there’s just something about these times, the pandemic and the isolation that we are all going through that made me want to believe that this was going to work out and I just didn’t do due diligence,” she said. “Buyer beware.”
Victims of this scam have reported that they were asked to send money via mobile payment apps. Remember, when you authorize a payment via a cash app, it’s unlikely that you can get your money back. And never pay for a pet using gift cards.