Des Moines, IA — The scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting U.S. consumers may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed. A multi BBB, in-depth study reveals at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.
The report, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” was prepared by C. Steven Baker, retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region along with an alliance of five other BBBs across the country. Its findings estimate that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to the scam, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars to the thieves. The report recommends coordinated and aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education to combat the problem.
“This is an ongoing and sophisticated scheme that has permeated the internet with phony websites and teams of international thieves focused on stealing your money,” said Chris Coleman, President of the BBB serving Greater Iowa, Quad Cities and Siouxland Region. “For victims, it can be devastating to wait for a pet that will never come.”
Because the scammers do not need to have actual pets available for sale, it is a simple matter to advertise breeds that are most popular — and often those hardest to obtain. Today, many of the complaints involve Yorkshire Terriers and French Bulldogs. However, other consumers believed they were paying for kittens, parrots or other animal breeds.
The study says that thieves impersonating pet sellers instructed potential buyers to make upfront payments for shipping, insurance and other fees associated with transporting the animals. In most cases, buyers never receive the pets, and lose their money.
Among the report’s key findings:
· Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
· The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
· The thieves will continue asking for additional payments until the prospective buyer refuses further requests.
· While victims can be of any age, reports show that those most susceptible to the scheme are in their late teens or early 20s.
· Better coordination by law enforcement and regulatory agencies, as well as increased consumer education are key to reducing losses.
· Doing an internet search of the advertised picture may help identify fraudulent offers.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to purchase a pet:
· Research any business and its owners carefully before paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org
· If possible, try to pick up the puppy in person. Puppy scams depend on buyers trusting that the animals will be delivered to them.
· Be careful about buying a puppy from anyone you don’t know, and be especially skeptical if the price is much lower than normal.
· Avoid wiring money or using prepaid cards or gift cards to pay for transporting animals. Instead pay by credit card in case you need to challenge the purchase later.
· Research pet adoption requirements in your area. Get a good grasp on what fees, permits and licenses are required by your local government and know whether they should be collected by the seller or government.
· Consider getting a rescue dog if having a purebred dog is not a priority. Generally, rescues are less expensive than purebred pets and often have fewer health problems.