Don't lose your money: Pet scams skyrocket as holiday shopping season heats up

If adding a furry friend to your family is on your last-minute Christmas list, watch out as complaints about pet scams continue to skyrocket according to the Better Business Bureau.

Every year around the holidays, Troubleshooter Diane Wilson hears from a family who not only lost money but had to deal with major heartbreak after falling for a pet scam.

This scam works two ways. First, you find a dog or cat advertised online. Typically it's a popular breed, and the post contains cute pictures and a discounted price.

You pay for the pet up front, either by wiring the money, or through a cash app, or even gift cards. Once paying all that money, the scammers keep asking for more money and the pet never arrives.

Recently, a Raleigh family lost more than $1,000 when they thought they were buying a Yorkshire Terrier from a legit breeder.

We've shown you how scammers create websites to make it seem like they're legit breeders. Alyssa Parker with BBB of Eastern North Carolina says, "Be aware of maybe any grammatical errors on the website or actually see if the address they post on there is legitimate." A quick google search and image search will also help you determine if it's a scam.

We've also shown you the heartbreak of a Raleigh family who lost money to this scam after buying a sick puppy from someone local. Days after bringing the new addition home, the family realized the pet was very sick and needed thousands of dollars in medical attention.

In one case the puppy was so sick, she had to be put down. To protect yourself, ask for medical records and see if you can have the puppy checked out by your vet before committing to buying the animal.

According to the BBB the median loss related to pet scams reported to Scam Tracker in 2020 is $750. Those aged 35 to 55 accounted for half of the BBB reports in 2020.

Estimated complaints and scams related to pet scams every year, according to the BBB:

  • 2017: 884
  • 2018: 1.578
  • 2019: 1,870
  • 2020: 4,300


Tips to Protect Yourself from Pet Scams:

Visit and inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders welcome the visit.

Never send money via wire transfer to people or companies you don't know and trust. Once the money is wired, it is gone for good. The same goes for prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. If anyone asks you to pay for anything with a gift card, you may be dealing with fraud. Petscams.com has also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system.

Search the internet for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it may be a fraudulent site. Consider searching for the text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site or if they're hosting multiple sites.

Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, it probably isn't true. If the content on the page states they register the dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm it by contacting the registry or organization directly.

Check out the website. Go to BBB.org and find out if there is a listing of the business or the breeder listed on the website.

Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and conduct an internet search on the breeder's or organization's name..

Consider visiting the local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve animal stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities.
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