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Better Business Bureau warns consumers about online pet scams

Adopting a pet during quarantine? Watch out for this puppy scam with a 'COVID-19 twist'
Posted at 9:31 AM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 11:31:12-04

BOISE, Idaho — One of the results of the current coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders: a pet adoption and fostering boom!

As a number of animal shelters across the country have been emptied, many people are turning to online resources to find their perfect companion. However, trying to welcome a new fur baby home could result in financial loss from a scam.

Better Business Bureau investigators say they're seeing an uptick in these scams. BBB was contacted recently by Boise Police, alerting them to an Ada County woman who'd lost $1500 in a scam while looking for a specific breed of cat.

"She was going through the process, making contact with what she thought was a cat breeder for a kitten online," explains Dale Dixon, Chief Innovation Officer with BBB Northwest and Pacific.

Dixon says the woman made the first payment through an app, similar to Cash App or Venmo. The "breeder" made contact again, asking for more money for extra things, like insurance and shipping and handling issues. By the end of the exchange, she'd sent $1500 with no kittens to show for it. The "breeder" disappeared without a way to track them down.

"In this situation, it's really sad in that that money is gone," says Dixon. "I equate this to taking a wad of $100 bills and driving down I-84 and just throwing them out the window as you go 80 miles per hour and then try to go back in a few days and find them. It's going to be next to impossible, and that's the same way it is here."

Dixon says many of the people behind these scams are spread out across the globe, making it hard to track them down. He adds that while $1500 is a large sum to lose for one person, it may not be enough to tip the scale to expend police and law enforcement resources to search for the scammers.

"There are just not enough resources to find these folks, and it's really easy for them to hide, especially when they use an app or if they ask you to use prepaid cash cards, Visa cards, things like that. There's really no recourse, and that's why we want to get the word out not to fall for these scams in the first place," says Dixon.

When you do decide to search for a new pet, Dixon suggests staying local.

"We have the Idaho Humane Society, we have shelters in a number of counties in the area, and we recommend that folks start there with adoption. If you're looking for a specific breed, then find a local breeder," says Dixon.

Dixon says search around social media and connect with breed-specific groups to find a reputable, ethical breeder. He also says it's important to make sure your heart and your head meet each other, and you make the decision to adopt from a logical standpoint.

"If somebody's asking you to send money via Cash App or to use a prepaid Visa card to send money, that's a non-starter. You just walk away at that point. Get a reputable breeder, deal locally, and if you do find a breeder somewhere else, make sure you check them out with Better Business Bureau. If there is no record of this breeder with BBB, that should raise a red flag," explains Dixon.

BBB suggests using a credit card versus untraceable apps or prepaid cards so you have some level of protection. If you've been a victim of a similar scam or have concerns while trying to find a new pet, contact BBB investigators.

"If you do get into the BBB website and don't find the breeder you're looking for, give us a call or send us an email. All of our contact information's available at BBB.org, and we could definitely start to look into that. We've got the investigative horsepower to find out more about that breeder," says Dixon.

For more on how to protect yourself and your money, click here. BBB also offers a number of resources to help businesses and consumers through the COVID-19 pandemic here.