The COVID-19 pandemic has created "fertile ground" for fraudsters.

By Meghan Overdeep
May 18, 2020
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The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning to Americans to be on the lookout for scammers capitalizing on the surge in pet adoptions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims. 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,” the trusted non-profit explained in a news release.

Consumers are reportedly encountering scammers who advertise on websites for puppies that don't exist and are never provided. COVID-19 has also made asking for money up front seem reasonable. Once the money is exchanged, the scammer and the victim’s money disappear. It’s only later the victims realize that that cute little puppy never existed.

According to complaints filed with the BBB, victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. In several instances, the consumers wanted to see or pick-up the animal but were told that wasn't possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” one puppy scam victim told the BBB. “I'm a highly educated person, but I've never felt so stupid in my entire life.”

If you are considering adding a furry new member to your household during this time, use these tips from the BBB to 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, it’s likely a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Avoid wiring money or using a cash app or gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud.
  • 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 payment is 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 catalogues puppy scammers, tracks complaints and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.