McCalmont Township, PA – A Jefferson County woman was scammed out of $3,000 recently when she attempted to buy a dog online from someone claiming to be in Texas.

The 40-year-old woman from Punxsutawney reported it to state police on March 20, saying that she had been in contact online with someone she believed lived in Texas and she was under the impression that she was purchasing a dog from them.

However, she realized she had been scammed after she sent money and the person stopped responding to her.

The Better Business Bureau says that pet scams make up about 35 percent of all online scams, and about 70 percent of people who are targeted in scams like this do end up losing money. Beware of heart-tugging backstories with requests for a “refundable deposit” or other fees to be paid by untraceable methods, such as Zelle and CashApp.

Click Here to read the online police report. (You’ll need to scroll down to page 4 to see this specific report.)

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Pittsburgh, PA – March 23, 2021 – Tuesday was National Puppy Day and as many hopeful pet owners look to welcome a new pet into their homes, the Better Business Bureau is reminding people to beware of puppy adoption scams.

BBB has seen a significant increase in online pet scams throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to purchase a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist.

BBB Scam Tracker received nearly 4,000 reports about fraudulent pet websites in 2020 and online purchase scams were identified as the overall riskiest scam in BBB’s latest annual Risk Report. Within the online purchase scams category, pets and pet supplies made up 34.5% of online purchase scams, with over 70% of people losing money when targeted by this scam type. The median dollar loss for pet-related scams was $750, significantly higher than all other product types used for scams.

“In addition to researching breeders, it’s also important for people to be mindful of puppy scams that are targeting people who want to adopt from a shelter or rescue, by impersonating real animal shelters or posing as individuals wanting to rehome an animal,” says Caitlin Driscoll, public relations director of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “Beware of heart-tugging backstories with requests for a ‘refundable deposit’ or other fees to be paid by untraceable methods, such as Zelle and CashApp.”

A Western Pennsylvania woman recently reported to BBB that she lost $400 after attempting to purchase a bulldog puppy in response to a “rehoming” Craigslist ad requiring payment via Zelle or CashApp. The scammer wanted to ensure the woman was not a first time dog owner and emphasized the importance of ensuring the puppy was going to a loving family. The scammer also claimed to come from a “noble and God-fearing family” and alleged that the puppy could be delivered at no additional cost through a reliable pet courier once payment was made. After transferring payment, the woman discovered it was a scam when an additional request for $520 was made in order to cover the cost of “diagnostics, an antibiotic vaccine and special crate needed for transport.”

In addition to telling buyers they cannot meet a pet before paying because of the pandemic, it is becoming increasingly common for fraudsters to make COVID-19-related money requests for items such as special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine, according to Scam Tracker reports. There are even reported instances where purchasers wanted to pick up the pet in person but were told that it wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Another Western Pennsylvania resident also reported to BBB Scam Tracker this month that she lost $499 to an online Pomeranian puppy scam that claimed to offer 70% off for one day only, all-inclusive shipping and delivery, with 100% of proceeds going toward families affected by the pandemic. After sending payment by Zelle, the scammer attempted to obtain another payment of $998 for a “thermal industrial crate” required by a fraudulent shipping company. After being told that if she did not pay immediately, she would be reported for “animal cruelty, abandonment and endangerment,” the woman demanded her original $499 payment be returned, but never received a response.

BBB recommendations for avoiding pet adoption scams:

  • See the pet in person before paying any money. Responsible breeders and reputable rescues are more than happy to offer you a tour and let you see the available puppies in person. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, even consider requesting a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
  • Check references. Read online reviews and talk to other people who have purchased pets from the place you are considering to make sure the seller is trustworthy.
  • Look for website warning signs. Fake puppy sale sites look legitimate because they steal content from other websites and often purchase sponsored ads to appear at the top of specific search results. An easy way to spot a duplicate site is to copy a line of text from the website and paste it into a search engine. Do a reverse image search of any photos of the pet as well.
  • Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, it could be a fraudulent offer.
  • Use a credit card. This offers additional protection if you do make an online purchase. Protect yourself from scams by only using money transfer apps for their intended purpose – sending money to people you personally know. Any request to only pay by untraceable methods is most likely a scam.

Report pet scams you encounter. Visit BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam online, along with reportfraud.ftc.gov. Petscams.com also tracks complaints, catalogues puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.

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ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including your BBB Serving Western Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1931 and serves the 28 counties of Western PA.