Better Business Bureau: Be on high alert for puppy scams

Puppy scams remain consistently profitable for scammers because their multi-tiered setup allows them to convincingly go back to a consumer several times to ask for money, according to a Better Business Bureau study update.

So far this year, while pet scams in North America appear to be on the decline, consumer losses are expected to exceed $2 million. That total is down by a third since the peak of more than $3 million during the pandemic in 2020-2021, according to BBB Scam Tracker. Average monetary losses in puppy scams are climbing, however, with an average loss of $850 in 2022, up 60% since 2017. BBB has tracked this since 2017, when it issued an in-depth study, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers.”

Pet scams historically make up 25% of all online shopping frauds reported to BBB and are tracking to be down slightly this year at 18%. BBB urges consumers to be on high alert for scams.

Puppy scammers lure people in with fake websites and promises of cute puppies, then ask for more money for shipping or special crates. Consumers say it is easy to be swept up in the emotions of the moment when buying a pet and push forward despite reservations.

According to BBB Scam Tracker, instead of receiving a 9-week-old golden retriever puppy, one victim lost a total of $350 on a false puppy advertisement posted on Craigslist. The initial cost for the puppy was listed as $175. The seller told the woman he had multiple buyers, but he would hold the puppy for a refundable deposit of $50. The victim sent the payment using Venmo and received another invoice requesting an additional $125. The seller gave the victim his phone number, residential address, and a time to pick up the dog. Ninety minutes before picking up the pet, the woman called to find out the phone number wasn’t in service, and the address was fake. She was out the money and sadly didn’t have the puppy she was expecting.

According to 2022 BBB Scam Tracker reports, Yorkies, dachshunds and French bulldogs make up nearly 30% of all puppy scams. However, buyers should be cautious when shopping for any breed online. 

Tips for researching puppy sellers:

See pets in-person before paying any money. 

Try to set up a video call to view the animal. 

Conduct a reverse image search on photos attached to ads. 

Research the breed to figure out the average market price. 

Check out a local animal shelter for pets to meet in person before adopting.  

If you are the victim of a puppy scam, contact:

Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report a fraud online,

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – to file a complaint online or call 877-382-4357 (1-800-FTC-HELP)

Your credit card issuer – report the incident if you shared your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed. Monitor your statements and if you suspect fraud, ask for a refund. It is not guaranteed, but many credit card companies will grant one. – tracks complaints, catalogs puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.

Roseann Freitas is a PR and communications manager for the Better Business Bureau.

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