The Better Business Bureau Breaks Down the Risks of Buying Pets Online

The Better Business Bureau is asking people who may be looking to add a furry family member as a gift this holiday season to exercise extreme caution if shopping for a pet online.

According to the BBB, online pet scams — when an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to adopt a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist — are especially prevalent during the holiday season. The agency says that people currently shopping for pets online are very likely to encounter a scam listing in an online ad or website.

Online shopping scam reports to BBB Scam Tracker have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pet scams make up 35% of those reports in 2021.

According to the BBB, scammers frequently take advantage of the high demand during the holidays by posting pictures of pets in Christmas hats and other gear.

Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help future pet owners avoid disappointment and losing their money.

Typically, a scammer will refuse to let the would-be pet owner meet the pet before buying, often claiming this is because of COVID-19 concerns. The scammer claims that they must use a pet delivery agency of some kind, often an airline.

BBB Scam Tracker has received many reports of fake web pages impersonating real businesses for this purpose. The scammer also may demand fees for vaccinations or other last-minute “needs.”

A Shelby woman reported to the BBB that she lost $350 this week when she tried to purchase a puppy online.

The woman told BBB Scam Tracker she paid a $350 deposit via prepaid card, but when she was supposed to meet the seller in person, no one showed. The seller then requested additional funds for shots and transportation, and when the woman refused, they threatened to throw the puppy in the trash.

The BBB warns that the tactics used in pet scams continue to evolve, however. Scammers increasingly ask for payment through untraceable cash apps such as Zelle, Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo and Apple Pay. A review of Scam Tracker data found that the vast majority of reports listed Zelle as the payment method involving the purchase of online pets.

The largest group of victims by age are those 25-35, followed by those 35-44. The average financial loss reported to Scam Tracker was $1,088.

While 82% of pet scam reports involved dogs, other reports included cats, birds and iguanas.

The BBB’s recommendations for buying pets online include:

  • See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
  • Do a reverse image search of the photo of the pet and search for a distinctive phrase in the description.
  • Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price because it could be a fake offer.
  • Check out a local animal shelter online for pets you can meet before adopting.

    You can read the original article on the BBB website HERE.