Puppy scams surge amid pandemic, little recourse for victims

The Investigators

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Pets are proving beneficial companions amid the pandemic, but experts warn of an increase in pet scams.

Cynthia French, Debbie Mills, Rael Raskovich, and Rebecca Ferguson all took to the internet when they decided it was time for a furry addition to their families.

Raskovich picked out a golden retriever named Max from a site called Love Golden Retriever Puppies.

“They said he is still available and that he would be ready to go home and that they would send an adoption form,” she said.

Within weeks of finding what she and the others thought were perfect pups, they learned they had fallen victim to scammers.

“How can people be so cruel? We were so excited about getting the puppy.”

Cynthia French

The scammers create phony websites advertising pets that don’t exist, using photos and reviews stolen from legitimate websites.

“The website looked great; there were pictures there and there were testimonies from people who had bought dogs there,” Mills said.

The scammers then request hundreds of dollars for deposits via non refundable money transfer sites like Cash App and Zelle. Once the funds are in hand, the scammers stop contacting the victims, leaving people like French with little recourse.

“I did all that she said. We went to Walmart and did the Western Union thing of $700 to her,” French said.

French never heard back from the alleged breeder.

Debbie Mills drove hours to pick up the cavapoo she had selected on one of the fraudulent pages.

“We drove to Atlanta where we were supposed to meet the breeder and a few hours before we arrived I called and didn’t get an answer so we texted and didn’t get an answer. We called again and the phone was disconnected,” said Mills.

Mills said she wished she had paid more attention to red flags like grammatical errors on the website and the breeders interest in text messaging rather than speaking on the phone.

“I am just heart broken over it,” Mills said. “I hate that I was so gullible,” she added.

The scam continued for Ferguson and Raskovich who opted to have their alleged pet shipped.

“They said it would be a $500 deposit for the dog and then a $150 for shipping,” she said. “They said they we would need that first and foremost and then do the registration at the airline,” she continued.

Both women received calls about alleged shipping complications hours before their pets were scheduled to arrive.

“I received a call from a man who said I am at the airport with your dog and we can’t put him on the plane without a $1,200 refundable fee,” Raskovich said

The caller cited issues with the crate and a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.

Ferguson received a similar call. In total she lost $1,700.

Jack Whittaker is the co-administrator of Petscams.com. Since the site was founded in 2016, they have received 12,000 reports from victims and have identified 20,000 fraudulent pet and shipping websites.

“The fraudsters that are running them have huge amount of resources and unfortunately there is little motivation from authorities to deal with fraudulent pet websites,” he said.

According to his research, most of the fraudsters are located in Cameroon, Africa. Whittaker has spoken with several fraudsters who demonstrate little remorse for their actions.

“Since one person is one country and the victim is in another country, they don’t see the victim as human beings,” he said. “In effect the victim is just another victim to them and not a vulnerable person that a purchased a pet. They don’t see the heartbreak or the child crying at home. It’s the unfortunate reality of the situation its just another win,” he continued.

“In effect the victim is just another victim to them and not a vulnerable person that a purchased a pet. They don’t see the heartbreak or the child crying at home. It’s the unfortunate reality of the situation its just another win,” he continued.

JACK wHITTAKER, peTsCAMS.COM

Chris Hadley is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau that serves Central South Carolina & Charleston. He said the pandemic could be playing a role in the increase in pet scam reports. Many fraudsters are reportedly telling hopeful pet owners they can’t meet in person but can ship the pet instead.

“We have had thousands of these complaints come to our attention so we want to get information out to others so they are aware,” said Hadley.

According to the Better Business Bureau they received 4,000 reports in 2020 from the U.S. and Canada.

BBB Scam Tracker Data

YearPet Scam ReportsLosses
2017884$448,123
20181,578$718,248
20191,870$1,016,380
2020 (Jan. 1 – Nov. 30)3,969$2,843,552
2020 (projected)4,300$3,100,000
Courtesy: BBB

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.
  • BBB urges more law enforcement action against pet scammers.

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 (FTC) – 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 1-888-495-8501 for scams involving Canada.
  • Your credit card issuer – if you provided your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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