COLORADO SPRINGS — Spending so much time at home during the pandemic, lots of people turned to pets for comfort. But sometimes shopping online for that furry companion can lead to trouble. Investigators say online pet scams are running rampant.
If you're looking to buy a pet online, especially a puppy, you may want to think twice. This area is a hotbed for fraudsters. News5 has reported on this before, but it appears during the pandemic the problem only got worse.
Colorado Springs resident Diego Graves was finally able to bring home his German Shepherd puppy Koda from a reputable local breeder, but that happy ending came after he reported to the Better Business Bureau and federal investigators he was ripped-off by someone operating a scheme through an online puppy selling website. Investigators say these sites are often run by international crime rings.
Diego says before he discovered he wasn't being treated fairly, he had agreed to pay $800. Often using a similar playbook, once the fraudsters get their first payment they agree to ship the dog, but things get hung up and people are asked to pay more for things like a special crate, or animal insurance. Meanwhile, there was never a real dog to begin with.
"In your heart you're wanting this dog. You are seeing this beautiful dog on the other side and you think man, this is a good deal. Well, a good deal isn't always a good deal because it can end up biting you in the behind and that's exactly what it did to me," Diego Graves told News5. "I didn't want to tell nobody. I was kind of like, man, I'm kind of a fool, this guy got me, but you know, the more people that know about this the less money they're going to get and shut them down. Shut these internet sites down and if you see one, report it."
These things are being reported at a startling clip. Petscams.com investigators have identified more than 23,000 fraudulent pet websites including the one Diego reported.
During the pandemic, the BBB received roughly 4,300 pet scam reports. The losses are projected at $3.1 million dollars. That's more than six times the total dollar loss reported to the BBB related to pet scams in 2017.
"Locally we've seen a huge increase. Over the last 12 months we've seen close to 40 puppy scams submitted around businesses that claim to be local within our service area, so the southern Colorado region," said BBB of Southern Colorado spokesperson Adah Rodriguez.
In Florida, the Crandall family was looking to add another bull terrier to their family to join their current pup Ferdinand. When they started googling around for puppies they made an alarming discovery. One of the first websites they clicked on had a picture of Ferdinand! The picture was straight off of their instagram account and was being used by scammers to try to get people to pay to bring him home.
"That picture was taken at our vets office in Stuart. They're trying to sell him, Ferdinand, that's him behind us. He's on the website right now to be sold for $700," said Keith Crandall. "They got their Venmo accounts, Zelle accounts gave them a property address to mail a check to. They send more photos of the dog but it was a picture of the kids in the picture with them, with me in them."
If you're in the market for a new pup, or pet, here is some advice to avoid a scam:
See the pet in person before paying any money
Do a reverse image search to see if the image of the puppy shows up anywhere else online
Do your research to see what a fair price is
Check with local animal shelter, or breeder you're familiar with
Never pay with a gift card or money transfer, this is a sure sign of a scam
To help you in your next search for a pet here are some helpful links:
Your help is needed to stop these scammers. If you are contacted by a fraudster, or have fallen victim to a scam you can report it to the FTC here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/media/video-0054-how-file-complaint
You are also encouraged to file a report with the BBB as a part of its Scam Tracker: https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us/