If you’re thinking about adding a new pet to your family, be on your guard against online pet scams. According to a study conducted by the Better Business Bureau, as much as 80% of paid advertisements about pets may be fake. The BBB Scam Tracker has 907 reports on pet scams, and the Federal Trade Commission has 37,000 complaints involving pets brought online.
The BBB says that it’s understandable why pet scams are so pervasive. Pet ownership has been growing in popularity, with the selection of a pet being viewed as the first step toward bringing a pet into the family. Digital shopping is also becoming more the norm, with the result that more consumers are buying their pets online.
The online site Pet Scams describes how pet fraud occurs. First, scammers hook buyers by stealing text and images from legitimate websites to create phony advertisements and then they offer prices so low that the buyers become attached to an animal that doesn’t exist.
Next, scammers connect buyers to a Short Message Service (SMS) and attempt to collect payment via bank wire in an attempt to appear legitimate. According to the BBB, buyers are typically asked to send money through Western Union or MoneyGram.
After that, scammers will start charging fees for filing paperwork, shipping from a remote location, transporting by a third party, renting a special crate, immunizing the animal, and other bogus charges. They rarely schedule an in-person meeting.
In the final step, buyers are asked to provide information about themselves. The BBB says that by now buyers are in deep even if they realize that something is amiss,. Scammers will often claim the pet is at the airport and threaten the buyer with criminal charges for “animal abandonment” unless more money is sent.
How can you avoid being part of an online pet scam?
- Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Legitimate breeders should welcome a visit.
- Search the internet for pictures of the pet to see if they are exclusive to the seller’s site. On Google Chrome, place a cursor over a photo and right click for an option to do an internet search for the photo. A website called tineye.com will also search pictures.
- Search the internet for descriptions on the seller’s site. If the same language shows up in several places, you’re likely dealing with a fraud.
- Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
- Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog at a discounted price, you could be dealing with fraud.
What if you’ve been a victim of an online pet scam? Stop contact with the scammer, inform the publication or site where you saw the ad, contact the company you used to send money, and file a report with the following places:
- BBB’s Scam Tracker
- Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-FTC-HELP
- Homeland Security Investigations: 866-347-2423
- Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://www.ic3.gov
The Humane Society of the United States encourages those looking for a new pet to check their local shelter or rescue. According to HSUS, one out of every four dogs in U.S. shelters is a purebred, and breed rescue groups will provide a larger selection of purebred animals.