Internet scams are a constant. Fortunately, people have become aware of the most well-known diets. Fewer and fewer people are falling for the false promise of making millions in the Publishers Clearing House scam. Most also know that there isn’t really a Nigerian prince who needs their help to secure his massive inheritance.
These and other scams have been around for quite some time.
However, the COVID pandemic appears to have been a catalyst in the explosion of online shopping scams. We had limited access to brick-and-mortar outlets, so online shopping was embraced, especially by the younger generation.
At the start of the pandemic, people searched for everything online. Surprisingly, adding a new puppy or other pet to the family was high on the list. In fact, in 2021, pet scams accounted for up to 35% of all online shopping scams reported to the BBB.
Commonly referred to as the “Puppy Scam,” the scammers saw an opportunity to exploit the situation, expanding their criminal efforts to levels of mass marketing that would make Amazon jealous. Thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale have been posted with the express purpose of tricking consumers into parting with a big chunk of their money.
Ads for sites often appear on Craigslist or Facebook. Knowing that emotion is a powerful motivator, the “Puppy Scam” is designed to get victims emotionally attached to a fictional pet. Scammers steal cute photos and videos of puppies or other pets from the internet to further sell the pets legitimacy, then offer the beloved pet for a price well below the norm.
When a victim is interested enough to contact the scammer, efforts to “hook” the victim increase. Fraudsters use emails, text messages and phone calls to further emotionally engage their prey. They repeated answers covering almost all questions about the animal. The victims soon consider the animal their own.
Once emotionally invested in the animal, the scammers also seek to financially invest the victims, tricking them into sending hundreds of dollars to secure ownership.
Some scammers have even created “Pet Delivery” websites. Victims are given a tracking number and notified that their new family member is on the way.
About a day later, the victims receive an e-mail stating that the delivery is delayed and that they must pay additional costs: delivery costs, cage costs, vaccines, etc. Scammers know that if victims are emotionally invested, the chances of extracting more money from them are high. Fraudsters keep adding fees until the victim can’t pay or realizes they’ve been scammed. If payment is refused, they often even threaten the victim of the crime with “animal abandonment” (in such a case, these laws would not apply).
How can you protect yourself if you are looking for a pet online? Here are a few tips :
• Do your best to see the animal in person. If that’s not possible, request a FaceTime or other live video call.
• Make sure the photos you see are legitimate and not stored or stolen by performing a reverse image search on www.images.google.com.
• Always ask for and check references.
• Don’t deal with anyone who won’t communicate with you by means other than text or email.
• Avoid payments by methods that make it difficult to track recipients such as gift cards, Venmo, Zelle and money transfers such as MoneyGram or Western Union.
• As always, beware of any price that is too good to be true. A pet offered at a greatly reduced price probably indicates a scam.
Finally, consider adopting a pet from a local shelter or rescue group. This will make you and the adopted animal very happy!
Reghan Winkler is Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB can be found on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.