Watch out for puppy scams!

MARCH 23 is National Puppy Day, an annual recognition of the unconditional love that puppies bring to our lives, points out the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

However, it is also a timely reminder about the devastation caused by puppy scams, with many Canadians losing hundreds to thousands of dollars to the second riskiest scam in 2020. Since the start of this year, the BBB has been receiving reports which share that scammers have taken a new approach to this fraud.

If you are looking to rescue a furry friend, watch out for scams targeting people who want to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue. Scammers are impersonating animal shelters or posing as individuals trying to find a new forever home for a dog, warns the BBB.

How the scam works

According to the BBB, you are searching online for a dog to adopt and find a new website for an animal shelter or an ad from an individual wanting to rehome a puppy. You message them for more information and receive a convincing, heart-tugging backstory. In one recent BBB Scam Tracker report, the victim shared that the scammer said she wanted to find a new home for her poodle after a car accident left her unable to care for the dog. In another case, the scammer claimed to be the Canadian Kennel Club.

In this version of the puppy scam, the scammer may not charge for the dog. Instead, they ask for a refundable deposit to “hold” the puppy or request payment to ship the pet to your home. Most scammers ask you to pay through wire transfer, e-transfer or use a prepaid debit card or gift card. Although this scam mostly involves dogs, it can also include cats and other pets. 

After you make a payment, the problems start. One victim reported driving to the “shelter” to pick up their new dog, only to find no such address existed. “I called, and they texted me that they are coming down with the puppy. I asked them where and no answer. Finally, after 10 calls the phone was NOT accepting any calls! By then it was quite clear I am not getting the puppy AND I’m out $300.”

In other versions of the scam, the con artists offer to ship the dog. However, you first need to pay for emergency vet visits, additional shipping fees, or even a COVID-19 test. The scammers ask for more money to resolve the problems, often promising to refund it after the pet is delivered. They may even try to create a sense of urgency by claiming that the pet will be euthanized if a payment is not made. Once they have your money, the scammers disappear and you realize the dog never existed.

Pandemic impact

The BB says that since the start of the pandemic, the demand for pets has dramatically increased, with people seeking to ease the loneliness and tension of their prolonged time at home. Last year, pet and pet supplies were the riskiest online purchase scam category, with Canadians losing an average of $750 per person. While puppies remained the most common bait in a pet scam, 12% of pet scam complaints to the BBB were about kittens or cats.

“The rising demand for pets led to a spike in pet scams, where an online search ends with a potential pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to purchase a pet that ultimately does not exist,” says Karla Laird, Senior Manager, Media and Communications at BBB Serving Mainland BC. “Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid the heartache of no pet and no money.

How to avoid pet adoption scams

  • Research the shelter. Visit BBB Scam Tracker to see if other people have submitted a report about the organization. Also do an internet search of the shelter with the word “scam” and “fraud” to see if anything concerning pops up in the results.
  • Never buy or adopt a pet without seeing it in person. This is the best way to ensure you are not caught in a con. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, most animal shelters will allow you to see the animal by appointment. You can also consider setting up a video call so you can see the pet for adoption and speak to the owner or a representative from the shelter. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help you to avoid a scam.
  • Do an internet search of the pet’s image. If you do find a puppy online, do a  a reverse image search of the photo you see or receive. If you find multiple pet adoption sites using the same picture, it is probably a scam.
  • Use money transfer apps correctly. Protect yourself from scams by only using money transfer apps for their intended purpose — sending money to people you personally know. 

Read the 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report.