Aside from puppy mills and disreputable dealers, internet scammers have ventured into the world of pet sales by stealing money from people who think their new pet is on the way to their home, but in reality, there was no animal at all, stated the Humane Society of the US, the nation’s most effective animal protection organization.
In online pet sales, families usually lose a significant amount of money when the pet they buy falls ill upon arrival. The unsuspecting buyer is the victim of these bogus transactions, but we must also not forget that the animals bred in factor-style operations for profit are also victims.
Where Are Pets Acquired?
Animal Shelter.org, whose goal is to create a world where people animals thrive and live happy and healthy lives together, used sources from the APPA National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association and the US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
The APPA 2017-2018 survey found that 84.6 million households have a pet versus 79.7 million households from the 2015-2016 APPA survey. In the 2017-2018 AVMA Sourcebook, there were 74.4 million households that owned a pet unlike the 2015-2016 AVMA’s survey’s 66.5 million. According to the 2017-2018 AVMA Sourcebook, 61% of pet-owning households owned more than one pet compared to its 2012 Sourcebook (62.2%).
The 2017-2018 AVMA survey also found that 80% of pet owners considered their pets as a member of the family compared to its 2012 survey (63.2%). 17% of pet owners considered their pets to be their pets or companions, according to the 2017-2018 survey (versus 35.8%). However, only 3% and 1% of owners considered their pets as property, according to the AVMA’s 2017-2018 and 2012 Sourcebook, respectively.
The AVMA’s 2017-2018 report found that 28% and 31% of dogs and cats were acquired from a shelter or rescue, respectively. 5% of dogs were taken in as strays in the AVMA 2017-2018 Sourcebook, down from 10.1% in its 2012 AVMA Sourcebook. The 2017-2018 AVMA Sourcebook found that 25% of cats were taken in as strays.
AVMA’s recent report revealed that 26% and 25% of dogs and cats were acquired from friends or relatives, respectively. 6% of dogs were purchased from a pet store and for cats, the figure was at 3%. 22% of dogs were purchased from a breeder compared to 3% of cats.
However, some owners decide to purchase a pet online. Unfortunately, the BBB ScamTracker contained 907 reports on pet fraud, representing 12.5% of all their complaints involving online purchase fraud, said BBB (Better Business Bureau), a private, non-profit organization. BBB speculated that the number of pet fraud cases may be higher than reported since many victims choose not to file complaints or do not know who to reach out to for help.
Puppy Scams and Bogus Online Pet Sellers
An internal report prepared by the Federal Trade Commission in 2015 found that some 37,000 complaints involved pets, with the majority of these complaints believed to be pet sales scams. FTC national studies revealed that less than 10% of victims of any type of fraud complain to the FTC or a BBB.
The FTC and BBB revealed that the majority of victims lose between $100 and $1,000; however, some have lost more. For instance, one victim lost $5,000. In the first six months of 2017, the Australian Competition Commission had 337 pet complaints and 10 from overseas. The Canadian Antifraud Center had 377 complaints involving animals in 2016, with losses amounting to $22,000.
Hundreds Are Conned Online During the Pandemic
Scammers are taking advantage of the pandemic to convince customers who are in lockdown to pay before they are allowed travel to see their newly-purchased pets, reported Martin Brunt of Sky News, a British free-to-air television news channel and organization. In the last two months, police found that 669 victims lost over £282,000 after answering false advertisements on social media and pet sale websites.
Scams typically start with a deposit, but are soon followed by demands for payments for vaccinations, delivery, and insurance, stated Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting center. Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, stated, “The fact criminals will even exploit an international crisis, such as the one we find ourselves in now, to take innocent people's money is especially cruel.” She added that as more people spend more time online and are forced to adhere to the new norm, criminals will continue to exploit the crisis to fool vulnerable people.
Tips for Not Falling for Pet Scams
Smith encourages pet owners to think carefully before transferring any money to the seller. Do you know and trust the seller? Action Fraud recommended to research the site and seller, as well as to request to see a video of the animals for sale. Don’t push through with the transaction if the seller or the video looks suspicious. You can also do a reverse-image search for pictures of the pet being sold online, suggested AARP. You can copy and paste text from a sales website into a search engine. If you find matching images and texts, then the seller is probably a scammer.
Another red flag you should watch out for is when the asking price for an animal is below the normal rate of a popular breed. Don’t proceed with the transaction if the seller’s preferred method of payment is through money transfer such as MoneyGram and Western Union.
When your shipment is on hold because the seller demands that you wire money to cover for insurance, veterinary care, crate, or pet food, you are dealing with a scammer. Avoid dealing with a seller who doesn’t provide you their phone number or will only communicate with you via text or email. Don’t believe threats that the pet will suffer or you will be charged for a crime if you don’t send money.
If you do want to get your own pet, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals said to think long and hard about whether you can provide proper care for that animal, not only in the present but in the future when restrictions are lifted and your lifestyle becomes busier. It added, “If people do decide now is the right time to get a pet, then we'd always urge them to consider adopting instead of buying an animal.”
Fraudsters are using the pandemic to commit fraudulent acts to vulnerable buyers. Buyers should be aware of the signs of a bogus seller before proceeding with the transaction. If buyers do decide to purchase a pet, they should be able to provide proper care now and in the future.