Riddle: What do you get when you cross the COVID-19 quarantine with bored kids, heart-melting online ads for floppy-eared spaniel puppies, and ordering online?
Answer: 85% chance of paying big fines for the dream of a dog that will go * POOF! *
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) ??raised the alarm last week about what it says is a spike in online puppy scams. It can now be seen that the pandemic has plagued so many people at home, imagining that it is the perfect time to train and bond with a little fluff ball.
According to the BBB, almost 85% of people posting pictures of puppies online are trying to scam you.
Richard Eppstein, Chairman of the Better Business Bureau (BBB):
There are no breeders, there are no dogs. The very thing is a set up to get your money.
Pat Brady, who runs the PetScam petition calendar online chat site, says his service has seen a similar increase in scams at lockdown. Usually called puppy scams, criminal groups behind hundreds of websites will actually use all kinds of pets to lure you in: kittens, horses, turtles, larger sulfur-crawled cockatoos, you name it.
These scams have been around for years. According to a November 2019 report from the BBB, the scammers, at least at that point, were for the most part in the West African country of Cameroon. Then the arrests showed that thieves used Cameroonians living in the US to collect the money from victims through Western Union and MoneyGram.
PetScam says many of those hundreds of pages are still online. Scammers use the same tricks as always: They pay victims for a pet that doesn’t exist, despite the adorable photos they display. Those photos are taken from somewhere, just like in a romance scam.
When it comes to online dating, the fraud is called catfishing. Catfishing is used as an online swindler-stole photo to put a fake persona on social media, especially to trick someone into a romance scam, but also through a gallery of other types of predators, including abusers who try to kid.
Of course, the swindlers will use the most beautiful photos they can find, just as they do in love cams.
That’s how a woman named Raquel and her teenage son came to live on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy with a red bow with white dots.
The supposed puppy’s name was at least Duke, and the photo showed him sitting up as he watched on TV. Raquel told BuzzFeed News that the puppy was exactly what the doctor ordered during these grim times:
(My son) was really excited about getting a puppy. We are now somewhat housebound with the COVID-19 and thought we would bring a little fun, a little excitement to the house.
Duke’s price tag: $ 600, plus $ 150 to send to Raquel in Cleveland. What a deal, Raquel thought, given that local breeders told them they would pay $ 1,500 or more for spaniel puppies.
Raquel, to her credit, was envious of dealing with an online seller. So she asked to see pictures and video of the puppy. Unfortunately, Visuals are easy to fake. Photos can be uploaded online for free, and a shy person can simply add their voice-over to a video they can find online as well.
Raquel also tried to do their due diligence by verifying that the breeder’s phone number was local, as in, it would have adopted an Oklahoma area code. Unfortunately, spoofing phone numbers is just as simple for swindlers.
She went ahead and sent the payment at the end of April, reports BuzzFeed. The next day, her family went shopping for supplies. Then the dog house of cards fell apart when she received an email realizing she was being scammed.
They said they had problems with shipping, and because of the COVID-19, the dogs require a special thermal crate to send them.
How special? Make that $ 1,500 special worth it. When she refused to pay, the subordinate breeder cut the contact, and she did not recover her $ 750.
This is the new wrinkle in the old ruse, says PetScam: The scammers have so far charged victims for the fictitious pet, plus delivery costs, vaccines, berths, bill or all of the above. But now they are also trying to pay people for “special” shipping costs, including for a compiled “COVID-19 permit” to send the pet.
Hey, why not? Scammers are opportunists. Once they have emotionally invested you in a fictional pet, they will benefit from the current situation to try to milk more from subconscious buyers.
The company is growing because of the pandemic. In addition to the BBB in the US, police have issued alarms in the UK and Canada. On Tuesday, West Midlands Police issued an alert warning that scammers are using the pandemic to claim that buyers cannot see the pets before they waste money:
People seeking the companionship of a new pet during the COVID-19 lockdown are linked by cruel fraudsters, with victims spending hundreds of pounds for kittens and puppies have been falsely advertised for sale.
The kittens and puppies are advertised for sale online, but scammers will not allow potential buyers to see them in person because of the outbreak of coronavirus.
Police said pet scams are like other pandemic-related fraud they saw last month, including orders for protective face masks, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 test kits that never appeared.
How to avoid being fugitive
Doesn’t sound like Raquel’s son: She told BuzzFeed that he is understandably saddened about losing to “Duke.”
He really looked forward to getting a puppy. He is an animal lover, so for him it was really disappointing.
Here’s our advice, along with some of the UK’s UK fraud, the US American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the SCAMwatch of Australia, and the International Association and Pet Transportation Animal Association to keep your heart out will not be broken and your wallet will be chained:
- Do not pay in ways that cannot be detected. Thieves almost never take money out of credit cards or through personal checks. Instead, they order their victims to pay via MoneyGram, Western Union, or with gifts or other cards with stored value. Don’t fall for it. Using untraceable payment methods is just like sending cash. Once the scammer receives the money, the funds are gone, and it can be nearly impossible to get your money back.
- Search online for the sender’s email address or mobile phone number. If the same contact information appears elsewhere, that is a dead gift. It may also appear all the bad reviews associated with that contact information. Also, check the PetScam ads to see if the site of a particular breeder is referred to as a scam.
- Request copies of pet inoculation history, paperwork and certification before you agreed to buy it. If the seller is unwilling or unable to provide this information, it may be an indication that the pet does not exist or is illegally bred.
- Buy your pet locally from someone you can meet in person. The ASPCA recommends that you never buy a puppy online: even if you actually get an animal, it could be abused along the way by a “puppy mill” breeder.
- Don’t let the villains intimidate you with the “you are criminally accused of leaving animals if you don’t pay” shtick. John Goodwin, senior director at the US Humane Society, told BBB that although there is actually a criminal prosecution for the abortion of animals, it would never be enforced in this situation. Of course, you cannot physically leave a figment of the imagination of some fraudsters, despite what they threaten.