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Heartless scammers are tricking lonely pet lovers into buying animals that are never delivered, according to a watchdog.
The isolation of the pandemic created an increased demand for pets — and with it, an opportunity for con artists to rake in over $3 million this year, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned.
Lockdowns and social distancing have also made it easier for the scammers, giving a built-in excuse for not meeting before money has changed hands, as well as justifying extra charges for safety measures during hand-over, the group said.
So far this year, the BBB has received nearly 4,000 complaints of pet fraud across the US and Canada, five times more than in 2017.
With the median loss now $750, that means the projected losses are expected to top $3 million this year — more than six times the total reported in 2017, the group said.
One unidentified New Yorker reported paying $1,300 for a Pomeranian puppy — only realizing she had been conned after the seller demanded another $2,200 for the pet’s safe delivery. She never got back the initial money.
Yorkshire terriers and French bulldogs appear to be the main targets, the group said. But it’s not just dogs — scams for kittens have more than doubled since 2017, and hundreds of parrot-lovers have also been tricked, the group said, citing Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data.
“COVID-19 has made for a difficult and uncertain year, and while a ‘quarantine puppy’ or other pet has proven to be a comfort for many people, it has also presented an opportunity for scammers,” said Claire Rosenzweig, President & CEO of BBB Serving Metropolitan New York.
“People shopping for pets online are prime targets for fraudsters trolling the internet looking for would-be pet owners.”
The group hopes to raise awareness of “red flags” during deals to “help consumers avoid heartache and losing their money,” Rosenzweig said.
Con artists are more likely to use mobile payment apps like Zelle and CashApp — both of which have issued their own warnings about pet scams. They often use online advertising tools such as sponsored links to boost their fraudulent listings in search results, the BBB said.
Scammers will often post the same picture numerous times — something that should show up with a simple online picture search.
While sellers may be justified in wanting to avoid meeting in person, legit ones should still be able to video conference to allow wannabe owners to meet their new family member virtually, the group advised.
And if a purebred or special pet is being advertised at a price that seems too good to be true — it probably is, the watchdog warned.
The BBB also suggested a scam-free way to get a new pet — getting one from a shelter, which are always desperate for new homes for their animals.
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