For many people, adopting a new furry friend during the pandemic has offered a sense of companionship during an otherwise lonely lockdown. But those seeking a dog, cat, bird, or other companion animal have been four times more likely to fall victim to a scam since the pandemic started.
The Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker shows more reports about fraudulent pet sites in April 2020 in the U.S. and Canada than in the first three months of the year combined. The number of complaints of pet fraud increased to 337 in November 2020; there were 77 for the same month in 2019.
“Data shows the average cost of each scam averaging a $750 loss, and individuals in the 35 to 50 age range accounted for half of the victims,” said Claire Rosenzweig, president and CEO of BBB Metro NY.
The BBB and law enforcement officials caution against purchasing a pet online, as scam listings are prevalent.
“Conversations usually start with the scammer giving reasons as to why you can’t see your pet in person,” says Rosenzweig. “ Then they ask for a deposit, or funding for shipping, vaccines, etc.”
If you can’t get an appointment to meet the animal, request a video call. If you are provided a picture, conduct a reverse image search on the photo to see what the data reveals.”
If you have proof that your new pet exists, be aware of the market value. Scammers try to upsell animals if they know you’re desperate for a certain breed. If you do make a purchase, avoid wiring money or using gift cards. Use a credit card if possible as your bank may be able to process a charge back if necessary.
“Do not, however, fill out an online form with your account information,” says Rosenzweig. “Scammers usually can’t process a credit card. You’ll fill out the form and receive an error message, and now they have your credit card information.”
If you are purchasing a pet online or have already done so, monitor your credit and watch for suspicious account activity. If you believe you have been scammed, you can report the incident to the BBB, petscams.com and the Federal Trade Commission.
Of course, the best way to avoid being scammed is to adopt, don’t shop. Reputable shelters and rescues may be short staffed and overwhelmed due to the pandemic, but with millions of homeless animals on Long Island, patience is key to finding your perfect companion. Be sure to check shelter websites, fill out adoption applications, and make appointments. Your best friend may be just a reasonably priced click or call away!