Pandemic Pet Boom Leads to Increase in Pet Scams

Pandemic Pet Boom Leads to Increase in Pet Scams - photo of a keyboard with a huge red "scam" button

The number of people falling victim to pet scams is rising, thanks to heightened interest in adopting a pet since the COVID-19 pandemic and the overall growth in online scams.

During the pandemic, more people adopted pets than ever, seeking companionship while isolated. 

While the pet industry has continued to thrive, so too have the many fake online adverts that encourage people to part with money in exchange for a non-existent animal.

How Do Pet Scams Happen?

While, in theory, any animal could be ‘sold’ as part of a scam, the most prevalent fake sales are of purebred puppies and kittens due to the high price that a real animal would typically fetch. Puppy scams are the most common.

Pet scams usually occur when sellers advertise an animal online, typically for a price below market value. This encourages people to part with their cash early, in a rush to secure a new purebred kitten or puppy for a bargain price.

Once the payment is made, the seller disappears. In some extreme cases, a meetup may be arranged in a public location where the money can be stolen instead of taking payments online.

Pet Scam Statistics

According to the Better Business Bureau, there have been over 15,000 reports of pet scams within the last 3 years, and it is expected that there will be many more scam cases that go unreported.

Some of these scams have been reported with no money lost. However, many people report significant financial losses when scammers have succeeded in fooling potential buyers. Some of the biggest scams have cost buyers $20,000+.

“Prime Targets” for Online Scams

When interviewed on the subject, Michelle L Corey of the Better Business Bureau said, “People currently shopping for pets online are prime targets for fraudsters trolling the internet looking for want-to-be pet owners. Knowing the red flags associated with this scam can help consumers avoid heartache and losing their money.”

Warning Signs of Pet Scams

There are several warning signs that buyers can be on the lookout for when buying their pet.

Some of the common signs of scams include:

  • Bargain prices that seem too good to be true
  • Sellers asking for extra cash after agreeing to a sale
  • Stolen photos or descriptions from other websites
  • Sellers refusing to allow visits or video calls to meet the pet
  • Pets being advertised for sale before a suitable age
  • Poor use of English in online adverts
  • Poor use of English on the seller’s website

One buyer said, “I was ready to purchase a kitten named Lily and realized there were some grammatical errors…red flags for sure. What really set me off is they sent me a contract and said I could just agree by email. That made me ask lots of questions, and then they stopped responding….”

Lisa Schiller is Director of Investigations and Media Relations at the Business Better Bureau. When discussing the seasonality of pet scams, she says: “When scams work well, scammers will use them year-round. But we do see a slight increase around the holidays for pet scams.” So be even more careful if you’re buying a pet as a family Christmas gift.

The Devastating Effect of Pet Scams

Most people’s most significant problem with pet scams is the financial impact of losing their money. Suppose a buyer has used a non-refundable method. In that case, getting their money back may not be possible even once they’ve identified it as a scam. This can often result in thousands of dollars being lost.

However, there are other emotional impacts of falling victim to a scam, which can be equally devastating. Buyers feel despair at losing their money, and buying a pet is an emotional decision. Many have reported feeling floored when discovering their new family member did not exist.

Rushed Decisions a Leading Cause

One of the leading causes of pet scams is buyers that rush a decision. Scammers know that the emotional pull of a new pet can lead people to act too quickly, especially if there’s a chance to secure a popular breed of puppy or kitten for a fantastic price.

Some of the best advice experts recommend to buyers is to slow down and remove some emotion from their decision-making. Buyers who take their time to carry out proper background checks into a breeder are much more likely to spot a scam before handing over their payment details and losing vast sums of cash.

Identifying a Genuine Breeder

There are many ways to spot genuine breeders. Experienced, authentic dog and cat breeders will be careful about who is buying their animals and may indeed insist on video calls or an in-person meeting to determine the suitability of a buyer and their home.

They can provide photos and videos of the new pet throughout their early weeks to show that the animal is real and in their care. They will also be able to introduce buyers to the parents or at least provide details of them (sometimes the father may have been loaned and since returned to their owner).

Registered Breeder Lists

The best way for buyers to know that they are buying from a genuine dog or cat breeder is to check to see whether they are registered with the major organizations that oversee cat breeds in the country.

In the US, that’s the American Kennel Club (AKC) for dogs and either the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) or The International Cat Association (TICA) for cats. These groups have listings on their websites for trusted breeders. However, buyers should still do their due diligence and double-check a breeder’s credentials and reputation before buying from them.

What To Do if Scammed

Buyer victims of scams are advised to contact their bank and whatever payment method they used. Buyers who didn’t use a credit card are unlikely to get their money back, though.

It’s essential to cut contact with scammers. Buyers may be tempted to ask for their money back or send them angry messages, but scammers will have moved on by this point and won’t reply.

Reporting Pet Scams

Anyone who is the victim of a pet scam, or is concerned about a potential pet scam, is advised to report the seller to help prevent further victims.

The Better Business Bureau has a scam tracker for all online scams. The website also tracks complaints and helps get false adverts taken down.

Victims can report scams to the Federal Trade Commission. They should also report scams to their credit card company to initiate a chargeback if they’ve paid using their card.

This article was produced by Floppycats and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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