COVID-19 pandemic causing spike in online puppy scams

COVID-19 pandemic causing spike in online puppy scams

PITTSBURGH — With so many of us spending more time at home, it seems like a perfect time to get a dog, but be careful in your search for a new puppy.  One of the largest spikes in fraud right now is with online puppy scams.

Family Cheated

Ashley Williams is an animal lover and wanted to add a puppy to her family.

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“I love dogs,” she said.

Ashley found an ad on Facebook for St. Bernard puppies and thought she was getting a deal.

“All together it was 510 for the puppy,” she was told in a text message.

Then, all kinds of surprise fees started popping up.

“So, they needed a 1000 for insurance and also ($500) to build a box for the puppy to transfer in,” said Adam Williams, Ashley’s dad, who helped cover the costs.

Unfortunately, more than $2000 dollars later, still no puppy.

“They’re just taking people’s money and getting away with it. They’re just getting away with it,” Adam said.

Ashley’s mom Cynthia Williams was just as angry and disgusted by fraudster who tricked them.

“You know, I don’t know really how people can do stuff like that. I just don’t see it, how people can be that heartless,” Cynthia said.

Puppy Scams Up 300%

Unfortunately, it’s happening more and more during this pandemic. The Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania’s Scam Tracker website shows a 300-percent increase in puppy scams in Pennsylvania.

“COVID-19 has really created that situation for scammers to capitalize on more people who are looking a add a furry family member,” Caitlin Driscoll, BBB Western PA Spokesperson.

11 Investigates’ Angie Moreschi called the same number Williams did. It rang, but no one answered.

Red Flags

The BBB estimates 80% of online puppy ads are fraudulent. Look out for ads on search results or on social media pages.

“The majority of these scams tend to rely on bogus advertisements that are on internet search results or on places like social media and Facebook to hook unsuspecting people,” Driscoll said.

Other red flags to watch out for include extra fees for things like:

  • COVID-19 insurance
  • special crates
  • COVID-19 vaccine (which doesn’t even exist)

Also, always be especially wary of anyone asking you to pay through gift cards, wire transfer or cash apps, like Zelle which is directly tied to your bank account. 

Something Ashley learned the hard way.

“I sent $800 from Zelle. My parents sent the $1,000 and I sent the $510 through gift cards,” Ashley said. “They scammed us out of money, and I still didn’t get the puppy.”

The Williams even filed a police report with the Pennsylvania State Police in Butler County, but they’re having no luck tracking down who did this.

“Our bank, right now, I done disputed it five times and they will not help us get our money back,” said Cynthia, Ashley’s mom.

The BBB says most of these puppy scams are carried out by individuals outside of the country, making it even harder to hold fraudsters accountable.

Tips to Protect Yourself

If you’re looking for a puppy, it’s always best to follow these steps:

  • Be wary of cheap prices for a breed
  • Research the going rate for any breed you’re looking at
  • Go to a local rescue, shelter, or breeder, if possible
  • Be sure to see the puppy in person before any purchase
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