With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Better Business Bureau saw an increased demand for pets to ease loneliness and tension of prolonged isolation, along with a spike in scams.
In 2020, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) saw an uptick in pet fraud reports, has received nearly 4,000 reports in the United States and Canada in 2020.
According to the BBB’s most recent study on Pet Scams, the median loss reported to Scam Tracker in 2020 is $750. Those aged 35 to 55 accounted for half of BBB reports in 2020.
Scam Tracker reports show that victims of pet fraud are told they cannot meet their animals before sending money. Petscams.com, which tracks and exposes these scams, recommends video conferencing to meet the animal and owner virtually before transitions are made in an effort to reduce scam vulnerability.
Other popular payment methods include bank wire transfers.
In addition, pet scammers now commonly use online advertising tools such as sponsored links to boost their fraudulent listings in search results. About 80 percent of sponsored pet ads may be fake, according to the BBB.
Puppies are commonly used as bait for pet scams, but 12 percent of complaints to the BBB were about kittens or cats.
According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data, scams involving kittens have more than doubled since 2017. The FTC also received 185 reports of parrots being ordered but not delivered during the first half of 2020.
The following are recommendations provided by the BBB 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.
- The media and public should help to educate those looking for pets online by sharing BBB’s tips and study.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:
- Petscams.com – petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogs 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.