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TROUBLESHOOTERS: Online puppy scams take a new twist because of pandemic

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Many of us turn to the internet when we're looking for something, including a puppy.

Some people end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a pet that doesn't exist.

"COVID-19 has presented all kinds of circumstances but one prominent thing is people are home more and many are interested in adding to their family with a pet," said Jessica Tharp, CEO and President of the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois.

With stay at home orders throughout the nation in 2020, the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker saw a rise in pet fraud reports.

There were close to 4,000 in the U.S. and Canada last year and more reports in April 2020 than the first three months of the year combined.

In November, close to 340 complaints came in which is up more than 250 from November 2019.

Tharp said the BBB has been tracking online puppy scams since 2017, but the pandemic has allowed it to take new twists.

Tharp added people are being told they can't come see the puppy in person because of COVID-19 and can't pick it up for the same reason.

Scammers may also say there are additional requirements because of the virus which can lead to more money out of consumers pocket.

"Examples of that would be a special COVID-19 vaccine for the puppy or additional shipping costs due to special containers needed to ship the puppy," said Tharp.

She said scammers are turning to apps which can be nearly impossible to get your money back once you send it.

"People have tried to use a credit card and the seller says that credit card has been declined we need you to use this Cash App or Zelle to pay for the dog, but the other twist for it is now they have your credit card and they're using those stolen credit card numbers."

On average a person lost about $750 through this scam.

Nearly 5 times the amount of pet scams were reported in 2020 than in 2017 and more than $3 million was lost last year.

"There's also the emotional victim part of it that's not tracked anywhere. You think you're getting a puppy you fall in love with the idea...So not only are you out the money, but you're also out the heartache."

If you're looking to buy a pet online the BBB has a few tips

  1. See the person in-person before paying, even if it's through video conference
  2. De research to get an idea of a fair price
  3. Call veterinarians in the area to see if they've heard of the breeder you've contacted
  4. Do a reverse image search

"It helps you identify where a website is repetitive so they pop up and appear they're in many different cities across the country or North America and it gives you a red flag that obviously this dog is not right here."

Jessica Cook

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