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Pandemic puppy scams skyrocket, warns Better Business Bureau

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in dog-related cons as self-isolated families look for some four-legged companionship.
Puppy scams know no borders, something a B.C. company recently found out after being swindled by a fake puppy supplier based out of Tulsa, Okla. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Not to be outdone by a global health crisis, online scammers have turned to puppy scams as people look for the comfort of a furry friend to see them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning British Columbians that online pet scammers are on the rise across the province, with many families having been duped by fake ads that never ship the would-be-pet.

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers reasons to ask for money or explain why they cannot see the pet in person before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned,” wrote a spokesperson for the BBB in a release.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker, there were more reports of fraudulent pet websites across North America in April than the first three months of the year combined. []

Despite the spike in doggy dupings, this is not the first time scammers have looked to take advantage of human fondness for furry friends. A 2017 BBB study found puppy scams are prolific during the holidays.

That study found it was sophisticated advertisements which usually tricked potential pet owners — a strategy so prevalent that, at the time, the BBB found 80% of sponsored advertising searches for pets “may have been fraudulent.” But with many victims not reporting their experiences, those numbers could be much higher, notes the bureau.

Some of the more recent enticements to trick consumers into a fraudulent pet sale include sending money for climate-controlled crates, insurance and a COVID-19 vaccine that doesn’t exist. Others were advised not to pick up the animal face-to-face because of COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing. 

In the case of one victim in Vernon, a website listed as King Charles Empire said they could safely arrange delivery around the world. The prospective owners interacted with someone who sent them text messages and a short video of their puppy. The man on the other end said border restrictions wouldn’t be a problem. 

But after paying the $450 deposit, the family’s research turned up evidence that the website was a puppy scam. “But it was too late. Our money was gone,” said the victim in a testimony to the BBB.

After investigations by the BBB, the fraudulent company based out of Tulsa, Okla., was found to have created and registered the website in March, 2020. The case serves as a warning as recently-created websites, broken links or social media accounts which offer little in the way of an online footprint are common traits of a fraudulent operation.

The BBB offers the following to avoid being victimized by puppy scams:

  • Do not buy a pet without seeing it in person. 
  • Do not send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, Interac or a gift card. 
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. 
  • Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter

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