The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting consumers may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed. In a new report, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers”, BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.
The report estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to the scam, with prospective buyers 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.
Among the report’s key findings:
Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
At least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.
The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
The thieves will continue asking for additional payments until the prospective buyer refuses further requests.
While victims can be of any age, reports show that those most susceptible to the scheme are in their late teens or early 20s.
Better coordination by law enforcement and regulatory agencies, as well as increased consumer education, are key to reducing losses.
Doing an internet search of the advertised picture may help identify fraudulent offers.
The complete release issued by Council of Better Business Bureaus can be seen here: http://go.bbb.org/2y6ftIa
A more detailed report and link to the study is available here: https://www.bbb.org/puppyscamstudy