If you paid for an ordered a cute but expensive pet online, especially during coronavirus shutdowns, there’s a good chance it will never be delivered.
We at MyChargeBack are troubled by the unique cruelty and harm inherent to online puppy scams. We’ve gone out of our way to warn the public about pet scams time and again. But the pet scam situation has only gotten worse. A lot worse.
In recent weeks both Action Fraud of the British police services and the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. reported a threefold increase in pet scams due to coronavirus. These involve the fictitious sale of pets to retail customers. No animal is ever delivered, or even existed in the first place.
What Does COVID-19 Have to Do With Puppy Scams?
First of all, as millions of people are being virtually held prisoner in their homes, they naturally look for new sources of affection and companionship. Pet adoption and purchases have skyrocketed as a result. That’s true for authentic transactions as well as fraudulent ones.
Second, the lockdown has led to a surge in online shopping at the expense of face-to-face retail. That has created more points of contact between consumers and internet scammers. More scams are the unfortunate but natural outcome.
Third, and a consequence of the first two reasons, is that it has become much easier for the scammers to use one of their most important tricks. The toughest hurdle for an enterprising con artist trying to sell nonexistent pets is convincing the victims to pay for something they haven’t seen. Obviously, they’ve always been prepared with some nice stolen photos of cute puppies, but that was often not enough for many buyers. They wanted to see the animal in real life. These days, with that option off the table, the path to success for the criminals has become much easier.
The last few months have seen not only an increase in the total number of pet scam cases, but also the average amount of money lost per case has gone up. In the United States, that translated to $700 lost to every pet scam on average, an increase of $100 over last year. That makes pet scams among the most expensive and damaging among the entire panoply of online crime.
All of the above only references the financial damage that victims suffer. But very few crime categories lead to worse emotional damage than pet scams. People develop a very deep emotional connection to their pets. That can extend also to the anticipation of a new companion about to join the family, especially in the event that the scammers pick the best possible photos. They take advantage of the victim’s psychological weakness by adding new unexpected expenses one after another. Your puppy is stuck at the airport and will starve to death if you don’t pay the sudden new release fee. The original shipper is sick and we have to pay for a different one. And on and on.
How to Avoid Scams When Buying a Puppy
To avoid becoming a victim, there are some basic safety precautions you can take:
- Always pay by credit card only. All other payment methods (wire transfers, gift cards, etc.) offer far fewer consumer protection in the event something goes wrong.
- Even if real-life face-to-face meetings are impossible, at the very least insist on a live video call with the seller and the pet being sold. Many of the scams are run out of distant overseas locations from where the criminals jealously guard their anonymity.
- When you learn the location the seller claims to be, find a local veterinarian online on your own and demand the pet be checked out only there.