NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Better Business Bureau collected data showing scammers are targeting people adopting pets online amid coronavirus shelter in place orders.

“We thought this was going to be our first purchase as a married couple when in return all we did is lose $500 for a puppy that doesn’t even exist,” explained one victim. “They wanted $770 for a crate because of COVID-19, and I realized I had been scammed. They started texting my husband saying I told them he would pay for the crate.”

Puppy scam reports processed by BBB serving the Heart of Texas in March and April rose from 12 reports in 2019 to 38 reports in 2020, an increase of 191%. Total dollars lost also increased by 163% with $9,152 dollars reported lost from March to April 2019 and $27,250 dollars reported lost in 2020.

Puppy scams involve consumers purchasing puppies, or other pets, online from a scammer that claims they will ship the dog to them. After paying for the puppy, the scammer may request more funds to take care of shipping issues or other complications. Once the money is exchanged, the scammer and the victim’s money disappear. Victims later realize the pup they purchased never actually existed, and the photos used on the scammer’s website are often taken from other legitimate online breeders.

BBB also found scammers are citing “new COVID-19 regulations” as a reason to charge more for specialty crates or to avoid allowing consumers to visit the dog before purchase.

BBB Serving the Heart of Texas has investigated three pet sales websites, each of which was traced back to the same individual. All the websites were created during the COVID-19 crisis. Celia Dachshund Home was created in February 2020, Ashley’s Bengal Kittens in March and Amanda’s Dachshund Home in April. Thus far, BBB has received 10 complaints and Scam Tracker reports against these three websites.

To date, the company has not responded any of BBB’s communications and maintains an F rating.

If you are considering bringing a new family member home during this time, use these tips from your Better Business Bureau to avoid puppy scams:

  • Visit the pet before purchasing. Some visits may be possible with proper precautions, such as wearing face masks and maintaining an appropriate distance. If that is not an option, ask to see the puppy over video chat.
  • You can also reverse image search pictures used in ads to see if that photo is used on multiple sites.
  • Avoid wiring money. Scammers will often ask for payment via wire transfer or gift cards. These payment methods are untraceable, and consumers are unable to get their money back if something goes wrong. Use a credit card when making purchases in case a dispute needs to be made.
  • Research the breed. Look around to see what prices your chosen breed sells for. If you find a breeder selling dogs for much lower prices, they could be luring consumers into a scam.
  • Consider local animal shelters. In an effort to prevent overcrowding and relieve stress on the animals, many shelters are looking for volunteers to foster or adopt pets.
  • If you decide to add a new furry family member, check your local shelter first. The Humane Society of the United States can direct you to local shelters.

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