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Better Business Bureau warns of growing number of puppy scams

Posted at 8:50 AM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 17:44:48-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — More and more people are paying big prices for pets they never receive.

The increase in pet adoptions during the pandemic is a well-known phenomenon, and with the holidays there are more and more scams fed by people’s desire to have a pet, says the Better Business Bureau Serving West Michigan.

“This is one of those toughest scams we see, because it really does get to the heart of people,” said Troy Baker, communications manager for the BBB.

“They're looking for a companion, because they're spending more time at home, and then from the scammers perspective, it's made it easier to do this con, because you can now say, Well, no, you can't come see the dog, it's not safe because of COVID.”

The BBB Scam Tracker saw an increase in pet scams when people were required to stay at home, with the median loss to fraud costing a customer $750. That means half of all scams cost more than $750, and half of victims lost less than $750.

One woman in the Traverse City area lost $2,000.

Carol Ford of the Wyoming area shelled out $500 before realizing something was wrong.

“My ma' had passed away in July and I had been taking care of her, so I got lonely, and I have grown kids and they have their own kids, and I haven’t had a dog in awhile," Ford told FOX 17 Wednesday afternoon.

She found a website that she thought looked legitimate and began the process of corresponding with the supposed seller.

“So I started checking into it and it showed a picture of a lady and her husband and her kids holding poodles, grooming them, so I thought OK.”

She says they had her send an initial $500 through a Walmart money transfer, saying her poodle would arrive via airplane on Thanksgiving Day.

“The night before, Thanksgiving Eve, he said, I need $500 down for the insurance, and I was like, what insurance?"

After some heated back and forth, she decided to cut her losses at this point.

Baker says the best way to avoid something like this happening to you is to “find a local breeder, find the local animal shelter or rescue mission, and buy your dog locally. That way, you know, you can go see them and verify they're real.”

And if you insist on shopping online, Baker suggests doing as much background research on the seller as possible.

“You should really take some of those steps to verify they're real, either by going there or having somebody you know go by the breeder and check it out, or insist on a live video chat.”

The BBB says payments are also demanded through other payment apps.

More tips for safe pet purchases:

  • Always see the pet in person before paying anything. During the pandemic, a video call could be okay if you know the call is live and not recorded.
  • Do a reverse image search of the pet’s image.
  • Research the prices of dog breeds.
  • Be careful of breeders offering shipping.