Buyer beware: How pet scammers play on your holiday emotions
COLUMBIA - The Better Business Bureau is projecting a nearly 8% increase from 2018 to 2019 in scams pertaining to purchasing pets online.
"If you're interested in purchasing a pet online this holiday season, we just encourage you to use caution and be aware that there are scams out there," Regional Director of BBB Mid-Missouri Michelle Gleba said.
According to the BBB, the most commonly reported scam involves fake online dog sellers who promise a pet and then don't hold up their end of the agreement.
"The complaints do vary," Gleba said. "But the most common complaint we see is when the puppy did not exist."
The BBB says the holiday season can be a particularly bad time when it comes to the number of pet selling scams.
"Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations," BBB St. Louis President and CEO Michelle Corey said in a press release. "The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet."
Another way scammers appeal to shopper's emotions is when they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved pet.
The biggest red flag of all though, according to the BBB, is when a pet seller asks you to buy gift cards in exchange for the pet or send money through wire services.
The BBB says once money is electronically exchanged to a scammer, it is gone for good.
But, there are ways for consumers to protect themselves.
"You want to make sure that you take certain steps if you are interested in purchasing a pet online," Gleba said. "Try to meet with the prospective seller in person if at all possible. Legitimate sellers are going to be, you know, wanting to do this with you."
Another way consumers can see if they are being scammed is to conduct an Internet photo search of the pet they are considering buying.
"If you're finding that photo showing up on multiple sites," Gleba said. "That's certainly a sign that you're probably dealing with a scam."
She also warned buyers to make sure they research the going prices for a certain breed of dog to make sure they don't pay too much.
Consumers may also use BBB's scam tracker service to research a seller or someone who claims to be a legitimate breeder.
"You can find out specifically in your neighborhood or your community the type of scams that are going on," Gleba said. "So if there are particular pet scams that are taking place in mid-Missouri you can find that out."
Another website buyers can use to track illegitimate pet sellers is PetScams.com.
Since 2017, the BBB has been tracking scams involving fake online pet sellers when the bureau recorded more than 4,500 scam complaints.
More than 6,000 scams were reported to the BBB last year, which is a 39% increase in the last three years.
The BBB says they have received nearly 16,000 complaints since it started keeping track.
Meanwhile, the FTC says only 10% of victims report these crimes.
A 2017 BBB study showed that around 60% of reports about dog sellers involved a consumer never receiving a pet they purchased online.
The report also cited buyers complaining about shipping costs, receiving animals with health issues and improper documentation for the pet.