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Online puppy scams are targeting people who want companionship during the pandemic

If someone you found online asks you to pay money up front for a new pet, it might be a scam.

Online puppy scams are targeting people who want companionship during the pandemic
[Photos: Matthew Henry/Unsplash; Vishnu M/Unsplash]

With people bored at home and often not eager to venture out to an animal shelter or breeder to get a pet, many are searching for ways to find a companion animal online.

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But, warns virtual private network company NordVPN, people are reporting scams involving dogs and cats to the Better Business Bureau in large numbers. The BBB warned back in May that pet scams had nearly tripled over the past year, and NordVPN reports in its analysis of BBB data that they continue to be prevalent.

“Actual numbers of pet fraud may be much higher than reported, because many victims either choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help,” the BBB has warned. “Many victims who contacted BBB’s Scam Tracker reported they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation and brighten their lives during the pandemic.”

Scammers often place ads on social media platforms or other sites, offering to have a pet shipped to buyers for a fee paid up front. After would-be pet owners place an order, sometimes by wiring money or sending it from a bank account, the sellers often request additional fees to handle shipping issues or for other reasons. Some buyers can be out hundreds or even thousands of dollars before they finally realize there’s no new pet en route.

The scams have been reported across the country and across the world, with former Australian Football League player Andrew Leoncelli revealing last week he was scammed into spending nearly 3,000 Australian dollars on a nonexistent dog he found online.

The BBB advises the following:

  • avoid pet purchases that require sending payment through unusual means, like wiring money or buying gift cards to other stores
  • be wary of deals that sound too good to be true for the animal breed in question
  • check for stock photos and text that appears on multiple unrelated websites
  • attempt to adopt from an animal shelter before going the online order route

Genuine breeders will usually be willing to talk on the phone or by video chat, while scammers may try to simply handle everything through email, the American Kennel Club advises.

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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