St. Louis, Mo., September 26, 2017 -- A West African-based scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting U.S. consumers may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed, according to a just-released report by Better Business Bureau (BBB). BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.
The report -- “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers" -- 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 problem.
“These are not just a smattering of isolated cases involving a few dozen naïve consumers,” said Michelle Corey, St. Louis BBB president and CEO. “This is ongoing and sophisticated fraud that has saturated the internet and which utilizes hundreds of phony websites, photos of animals stolen from the internet and teams of international thieves, all focused on one thing -- stealing your money.”
|A picture of a yorkie used in several pet scams|
The report says that while most victims are hooked into the scam by photos of cuddly terriers, miniature bulldogs or other puppies, other consumers believed they were paying for kittens, parrots or other animals to be delivered to their homes.
The study says that thieves impersonating pet sellers instructed 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, and lose their money.
Among the St. Louis area victims is a consumer from Collinsville, Ill., who said he recently was duped by a scammer who took a $700 MoneyGram payment for a Weimeraner puppy. The consumer realized he had been scammed when the supposed seller asked for an additional $1,400 for insurance. The consumer said he never received the dog and never recovered his money.
Among the report’s key findings:
The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist. Baker is the retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region.
In his role with BBB, Baker is working with an alliance of five BBBs, including the St. Louis office, in analyzing and reporting on some of the most pervasive fraud issues that impact American consumers.
BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to purchase a pet:
St. Louis Area Media Contacts: Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, (314) 584-6743 or (314) 681-4719 (cell), email@example.com
Shellie Kreter, PR & Communications Manager, (314) 584-6723 or (314) 348-5451 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org
Columbia media contact: Sean Spence, Columbia Regional Director, (573) 886-8965, email@example.com
Cape Girardeau media contact: Joey Keys, Cape Girardeau Regional Director, (573) 803-3191, firstname.lastname@example.org
Quincy media contact: Mara Clingingsmith, BBB Quincy Regional Director, (217) 209-3972 or (217) 242-6272 (cell), email@example.com
Springfield media contact: Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 888-996-3887, firstname.lastname@example.org