The demand for “quarantine puppies” and other pets increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing with it a spike in scams that has persisted even as virus-related lockdowns have abated. Online pet scams — in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to adopt a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist — are especially pervasive during the holiday season, when families may be looking to add a furry family member as a gift. The Better Business Bureau advises extreme caution if shopping for a pet online.
People currently shopping for pets online are very likely to encounter a scam listing in an online ad or website. Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid heartache and losing their money.
Online shopping scam reports to BBB Scam Tracker have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pet scams make up 35 percent of those reports in 2021. While pet scam-related reports are down slightly from 2020, they are expected to be double this year to those in 2019, and more than four times as many as 2017, when BBB published its first investigative study about online puppy scams.
BBB recommendations for buying pets online
- See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
- Do a reverse image search of the photo of the pet and search for a distinctive phrase in the description.
Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price … it could be a fraudulent offer.
- Check out a local animal shelter online for pets you can meet before adopting.
The BBB urges more law enforcement action against pet scammers.
The media and public should help to educate those looking for pets online by sharing BBB’s tips and study.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam
- Petscams.com — petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogues puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.
- Federal Trade Commission— reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
- Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam online.
- Canadian Antifraud Centre – antifraudcentre-centreantifraude or call (888) 495-8501 for scams involving Canada.
- Your credit card issuer – report the incident if you shared your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed.