CLARKSBURG, WV (WBOY) – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers of puppy scams after two have been reported in West Virginia.
The scams consist of fake advertisements selling the animals. Often with these scams, the consumer makes the purchase, but never receives the pet.
Some families have turned to the internet to look for a new pet as they spend more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many have come across scammers instead of real advertisements, according to the BBB.
In one scam reported in West Virginia, a Kanawha County woman thought she had found a puppy breeder in South Charleston selling Teacup Cockapoo and Cavpoo puppies for $450. Officials said that when she inquired what vet the breeder used to treat the puppies, she was given the name of a vet in New York, which did not check out upon calling the phone number given. She asked for pictures of the parents of the puppies and was given pictures of Saint Bernards. Based on the inconsistencies, she ceased communication with the breeder and submitted a scam tracker report, the BBB said.
The BBB says another scammer used a fake Wheeling address while posing as a breeder. The organization says each report states the consumer paid more than $630 for a puppy. Officials said consumers allege the shipping company offered gave many excuses to delay the puppy’s arrival, and both consumers refused to pay any more money. The BBB says the seller and the shipper both turned out to be fraudulent, and neither party received refunds or their puppy.
BBB officials said scammers are using the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to ask for money or explain why consumers can’t see the pet in person before the would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned.
Puppy scams like this were the subject of a 2017 in-depth investigative study by BBB and are prolific during the holidays, according to the BBB. However, new data from the BBB Scam Tracker shows these scams have spiked since the pandemic began in the U.S., with more reports of fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.
“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” said Frank Cilona, BBB president and CEO. “The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decision to adopt a pet sight unseen has created fertile ground for fraudsters.
BBB officials said its earlier study found these types of frauds depend on bogus, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers to be successful. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an Internet search for pets may be fraudulent, according to the BBB.
Victims of these puppy scams are often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a non-existent COVID-19 vaccine, according to the BBB. They also report several instances where the consumer wanted to see or pick-up the animal but was told it wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The BBB says the following tips can help consumers avoid puppy scams:
- Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, its likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
- Don’t send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, and a cash app like Zelle or a gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud.
- The BBB says scammers may claim to accept credit cards, but may steal your credit card information to use it in other scams or inform you that payment didn’t go through and request the payment via wire service or gift cards.
- Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If a purebred dog is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, and then other payments are required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
- If you think you have been scammed, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. You also can report it to petscams.com, which catalogs puppy scammers, tracks complaints and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.