Better Business Bureau® of Central Oklahoma is issuing a general alert to the public after completing an in depth investigation after receiving numerous calls, complaints and scam reports regarding pet scams being run by numerous different companies claiming to be in Oklahoma.
“With the holiday season in full swing a new pet could be an ideal addition to your family,” said Kitt Letcher, President & CEO of BBB. “Unfortunately, this is one of the scams that we see increasing across the nation, and for some reason a lot of scammers choose to say they’re from Oklahoma.”
BBB analyzed multiple complaints, phone calls and reports of pet scams and identified at least 10 companies that have scammed victims in 9 states, including Oklahoma. With victims reporting requests and losses totaling just under $10,000 dollars.
“We expect that number to increase as the word gets out and more victims come forward,” said Letcher.
The companies, whose websites have all been taken down after the initial investigation was launched by BBB, are
- Platinum Yorkies
- Sam’s Goldens
- Empire Goldens
- Duncan Paws
“The difficulty with tracking this type of scam, as it is with any kind of online scam, is once the scammer knows you’re on to them they can shut down the website and startup a new one with a completely different name, look, feel, and so on,” said Letcher.
BBB cites multiple red flags found during the investigation:
- Poorly constructed website with considerable grammatical errors.
- Avoiding answering direct questions. Multiple questions went ignored/avoided and unanswered during the course of BBB’s investigation. Including questions as to discrepancies in the location of the business, contact number area code in one state while the breeders address was in another, and not providing additional pictures.
- Suspiciously low prices. A business claims to be selling puppies of a certain breed for a dramatically lower price than the breed would be typically expected.
- Payment methods. The business requires payment through Walmart-to-Walmart wire transfer, Western Union, and Moneygram, to name a few. BBB always recommends making a purchase with a credit card, not a debit card, as to allow for the built in protections offered by that financial institution. Using wire transfer payments is dangerous to consumers because once the money has left your account, there is no way of ensuring you’ll ever see it again.
- Photos. The pictures of the puppies for sale were pulled from other websites. By right clicking on an image listed on the scammers websites and selecting “Search Google for this image” multiples of the same image appear on different websites.
- Location. A company may list a certain address, but the address provided shows as a private residence unconnected to the website and “company”, or the address of a different business altogether.
BBB reported that victims would search for “dogs for sale” or breeders for a certain breed online and arrive at a scammer’s website. After some deliberation and possibly a couple emails with the scammers, they would then initiate a transaction and make a payment, in some instances nearly $1000.
Victims would assume everything was okay until the “shipping company” the scammers put them in contact with would request another sizeable sum of money. As the delivery date approaches scammers use this to squeeze additional funds out of the consumer, the “shipping company” would reach out and state they required an additional shipping and/or insurance fee immediately in order for the pet to make the flight.
After the initial investigation launched, Will Rogers World Airport and BBB started working together on ways to address the calls and inquiries being received at the state’s busiest airport.
"It is not uncommon for the airport to receive questions about shipping pets," said Karen Carney, public information & marketing manager with Will Rogers World Airport. "However, we have seen a noticeable increase in contacts from victims of this type of scam. We are happy to field questions about shipping animals but always advise buyers to thoroughly research the company before purchasing a pet."
BBB offered to the following tips as a result of the findings of the investigations:
When searching for a new pet:
- Avoid buying online. Unless you can visit the breeding facility before the purchase and bring your puppy home personally, do not purchase a puppy from a website. When you have a puppy shipped from another area, you don’t know how that puppy has been treated, how healthy or young it is, or whether or not the puppy exists.
- Don't be fooled by a slick website. Dishonest breeders and even outright scams can be represented by professional-looking websites that lure you in with fraudulent pictures of adorable puppies. Anyone who has experienced a dog-related scam should report it to local authorities as well as your local Better Business Bureau.
- Get a referral. Don’t forget you can always get referrals for reputable breeders from your veterinarian, friends and family, and local kennel clubs. Remember, responsible breeders will want to interview you to make sure the puppy is the perfect fit for you and your family.
- Make sure to reverse search images. As noted, many times scammers use stock photography or images already available online to help sell their scam. BBB recommends taking the time to either reverse search an image through your preferred search engine, or going directly to that search engine and searching images for the type and breed of animal you’re looking for.
Always do your homework:
- Start With Trust. Check a breeder or shelter`s credentials. If you locate a puppy through a website, do not send money without speaking to the breeder and checking references and credentials first. Ask if the breeder is a member of an American Kennel Club-affiliated club, and contact the club to verify membership. You can also search for a business`s BBB Business Review at bbb.org/oklahomacity. All too often, unsuspecting people purchase puppies from puppy mills, which result in temperament or health issues down the line.
- Ask to see the parents. Before bringing a puppy home, ask to see his or her parents and the living area where he or she was born and raised. Honest breeders will be happy to show you around. If the seller refuses or makes excuses, walk away.
- Ask for medical records. Get a written account of all medical care your puppy has received, including vaccinations and antibiotics. Take this record to your vet during the first examination. See a veterinarian immediately. Within a few days of bringing your puppy home, schedule a complete physical with your vet to make sure it is in good health.
- Check pedigree. If purchasing a pedigreed pet, be sure the breeder provides documentation of the parents’ registration with the appropriate kennel club. This ensures that the pet is in fact a legitimate pure-bred animal. It is then your responsibility to register your pet with the appropriate kennel club.
- Take your time. Beware of breeders who claim to have multiple breeds ready to ship immediately. It's highly unlikely your perfect puppy will be available for shipping on the day you call. Gestation and socialization of a litter takes months. No puppy should be separated from the mother before 8 weeks of age.
- Ask for references. Ask the breeder for contact information of people who have bought puppies in the past. Try to talk to people who have had their dog awhile in order to check for issues that may not be immediately apparent, like genetic problems.
When making the actual purchase:
- Read contracts thoroughly. If the seller offers a health guarantee, make sure it is in writing and read it carefully for limits and proof requirements. Guarantees should cover more than a few weeks or days, since it can take weeks for symptoms to appear in illnesses like parvo and distemper. Genetic issues might not become apparent for years.
- Too good to be true. Watch out for suspiciously low prices. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!
- Visit the breeder first. It is essential to visit the breeder at their home to see the entire litter, the care and conditions given to the puppies, and the puppy’s parents prior to purchasing. This will allow you to see if the environment is clean and healthy for the puppies, as well as the temperament and quality of the older dogs.
- Beware of breeders who seem overly concerned with getting paid. Any reputable breeder will be far more concerned with the appropriateness of the potential pet home than what and when they are getting paid. Make sure you have clear expectations - ideally in writing - of how and when the puppy will be paid for. Be especially wary of any breeder who insists you wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card.
Arranging for transportation of your new pet:
- Be aware of the dangers of flying your pet in a cargo hold. According the Humane Society, while most animals flown in the cargo area of airplanes are fine, you should be aware that some animals are killed, injured or lost on commercial flights each year. Excessively hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation and rough handling are often to blame. Most U.S. airlines are required to report all companion animal incidents that occur in the cargo hold, and consumers should study the performance record of any airline before choosing to fly your pet in a cargo hold.
- If your animal is being shipped, ask for the name and contact information of the “shipper” the advertiser plans to use. Try to make arrangements to pick the animal up yourself, saying you will fly to wherever the animal is. If they can’t make those arrangements, it is probably a scam. If they claim to be a member of International Pet and Transport Association, you can easily check on that by using our “Find a Pet Shipper” page. On occasion, there are new members that are not listed on the IPATA online directory. If you have questions, the only way to confirm a company’s membership in IPATA is to contact IPATA directly.
Will Rogers World Airport (WRWA) also offered tips for consumers about arranging transport for new pets:
- Will Rogers World Airport does not have a central receiving area for any animals. Pets are primarily shipped through the major airlines or private charter companies. UPS and FedEx do not ship most animals including dogs and cats. WRWA does not: hold for pickup, quarantine, vaccinate, or provide any shipping/receiving services for any animals.
- Customer should verify shipping details. If a small animal is being shipped on a major airline, which is the most common method, the customer should be provided with an airway bill that provides specific information about the flight including the name of the airline, flight numbers, time of arrival/departure, and a confirmation number. The customer should not just receive a confirmation number without airline or flight information included. If the shipper is using a private charter or private airline, the customer should get specific information as to the name of the airport, the name of the company where the plane will land, at WRWA that is AAR Oklahoma and Atlantic Aviation, where the animal will be delivered, and times of departure/arrival. Animals shipped by a legitimate airline or charter company, will have a very specific location for pickup. For example, a pickup with a major airline would be at that airline’s baggage claim or cargo office.
- No company should ask for additional money after the pet is shipped. All shipping costs, including insurance, vaccinations, crates, quarantine, etc., should be included in the initial shipping fees.
BBB also reached out to breeders and other pet service companies:
Due to the volume and nature of complaints, BBB is urging any and all pet breeders, service companies, and transportation companies to register with them to ensure consumer protection. Registering their business is FREE, fast, and easy. Just visit bbb.org/oklahomacity/getregistered/.
“Businesses can register with the BBB and receive an online profile and rating for free,” said Letcher. “This helps the consumer when doing their research and shows that they are an actual legally operating business and are not another online scammer.”
BBB said they anticipate the growth in this type of scam reporting to increase through the holidays and urges any member of the public who has fallen victim to the scam to report it at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/oklahoma-city/.