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BBB warns against puppy scams

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning residents who are looking for a new furry companion to be on the lookout for puppy scams, which have seen an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some families obeying stay-at-home orders have turned to the Internet to look for a pet, thinking they would have plenty of time to help the pet adjust to its new surroundings," a press release from BBB stated.

According to the BBB, more than 500 victims and potential victims of puppy scams have reported their experiences to the BBB Scam Tracker. Actual numbers of pet fraud might be even higher because many victims either choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help. Many victims reported they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation and brighten their lives during the pandemic.

“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” said Shawna-Kay Thomas, communications specialist with BBB. “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.”

Victims of puppy scams were often told they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There were also several instances where the consumer wanted to see or pick up the animal, BBB stated, but was told it wasn't possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"Many have come across scammers who advertise on websites for animals [that] don't exist and are never shipped," the release stated. "The COVID-19 pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why they can’t see the pet in person before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned."

Puppy scams like these were the subject of a 2017 in-depth investigative study by BBB, which claims they are prolific during the holidays. New data from the BBB Scam Tracker shows these scams have spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic, with more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.

BBB’s earlier study found that these types of frauds usual depend on bogus advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links that appeared in an Internet search for pets may have been fraudulent.

The bureau's tips to avoid such scams include not buying a pet without seeing it in person; not sending money by Western Union, MoneyGram, or a cash app like Zelle; and researching prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. BBB also recommends would-be adopters to consider local animal shelters instead of relying on the Internet. 

"Especially during this time of quarantine, many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal's stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities," BBB's release stated. "Contact your local shelters for referrals."

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