An international scam to sell non-existent puppies online is targeting dog-owner hopefuls by collecting payment through wire transfers and never sending the pet.
The Better Business Bureau is warning buyers that the scam is more widespread than initially thought. Tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have already fallen victim, according to their report “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unexpecting Pet Buyers.”
Prospective buyers have the potential of losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars each to the thieves. The report recommends coordinated and aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education to combat the scam.
“These cases can be devastating to families who are waiting for pets that will never come,” said Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “These are not just a few isolated cases of naïve consumers being taken. This is a highly organized, international scheme focused on one thing – stealing people’s money.”
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Scammers use photos of cute puppies — some other scan victims believed they were paying for kittens, parrots or other animals.
Thieves apparently impersonate pet sellers and instruct potential buyers to make upfront payments for shipping, insurance and other fees associated with transporting the animals. In most cases, buyers never receive the pets, the bureau said.
A woman in Oakland, California reported she lost nearly $1,000 after agreeing to pay to have a teacup Yorkie shipped from Baltimore to her. In Illinois, a man said he lost $700 after thinking he purchased a Weimaraner puppy.
The scam has been going on for some time.
In May 2016 a woman from Cameroon was arrested in Lehi, Utah. She was picking up money from pet fraud victims at a Western Union branch, and reportedly had 15 different fraudulent driver’s licenses, the bureau said.
Two Cameroonians were recently indicted in the District of Kansas and charged with wire fraud and taking part in an international conspiracy, which included pet fraud. Their role was picking up money sent by fraud victims at Western Union and MoneyGram outlets.
In addition to obtaining money for Yorkies and bulldogs, the two are alleged to have also offered to sell illegal identification documents such as passports, and also medications, prescription drugs, automobiles and chemicals.
Some of the report’s findings include:
▪ Most of the scammers originate in Cameroon and use people in the states to pick up payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
▪ There may be hundreds or thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale with language and photos used from legitimate breeder websites.
▪ Any requests to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
The Better Business Bureau says anyone looking to purchase a pet from an online breeder should research any business or seller carefully. If possible, pick up the puppy in person. And avoid wiring money or using prepaid cards or gift cards for payment.
Victims of the fraud can report it to the BBB Scam Tracker.