Even under normal circumstances, people tend to get lonely during the holidays, but buying a pet to fill an emotional void is especially in vogue this year as we enter a festive season while in the throes of a raging pandemic. Unfortunately, thousands of lonely Americans scanning the internet for a quarantine pet are finding themselves victims of various scam operations, which are selling puppies and kittens for hundreds and delivering nothing in return. As you consider adopting a pet this winter, make sure you aren’t getting swindled first.
What are these scams?
According to the Better Business Bureau, the pandemic has seen a massive rise in reported pet adoption scams. The BBB Scam Tracker catalogued the uptick, noting that 4,000 instances of pet fraud were reported in the U.S. and Canada alone in 2020 so far. In April, the month COVID-19 really started ravaging the country, more fraudulent pet sales were recorded than in the three previous months of the year combined. Most of the scams involve the sale of puppies, but about 12 percent involve the sale of cats. The median loss reported to the BBB is $775. The total projected loss of the scams will be around $3 million by the year’s end, according to the BBB.
As the agency writes in a press release:
The COVID-19 bump is continuing into the holiday season, with consumers reporting 337 complaints to BBB about puppy scams in November 2020, a dramatic increase from 77 for the same month in 2019.
The scams prey on people looking to liven up their homes in a time of international crisis, so the victims’ personal stories obviously get pretty sad. Yahong Zhang of Omaha, Nebraska paid $1,200 on two puppies to be shipped to his six-year-old son after he made good on a promise to his dad to practice the piano. The puppies never came. Kanetria Hutcherson tried to replace her 10-year-old daughter’s cat with a new pet after it went missing, but got swindled by scammers posing as a family in Baltimore. The “small dog” she thought she was buying cost her $980, but it never showed up. Stories like these are numerous, and detailed in the BBB’s report on the rise in animal adoption scams this year.
How to identify them
One dead giveaway of pet adoption scams is when whoever you’re dealing with doesn’t let you physically see the pet before you pay for it. As the agency notes, the scammers often don’t accept major credit cards and ask for direct bank wire transfers, or another form of payment via mobile app or gift card.
As far as best practices, the BBB recommends:
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 … it could be a fraudulent offer.
Check out a local animal shelter online for pets you can meet before adopting.
It stands as a firm testament to reality that scams like this are targeting people trying to do nice things for their families during the holidays. But by following some of these tips, you can make sure that you don’t throw your money into a void, and that the puppy you bought actually shows up at your door.