Cyber Monday sales are no place to buy a pet: Online pet scams on the rise

If you know someone who’s thinking of gifting a pet for the holidays and you’ve educated them on the four rules for gifting someone a dog or cat (which include checking with the giftee first to see if they’re up for a 10- to 20-year commitment), make sure to educate them on the best place to buy the pet, too.

Shelters, rescues, and reputable breeders are good places to look. Cyber Monday sales are not.

Because online pet scams are on the rise.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says up to 80% of online pet ads could be phony. And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found 37,000 complaints regarding pets—the majority of them believed to be puppy scams.

Not only could an online pet ad be a scam, there’s a good chance the pet being advertised doesn’t even exist, at least not as advertised. In nearly all cases, the people advertising the pets online don’t own them, and if there are photos of the pet, the images were most likely lifted from another website.

In most online pet fraud cases, the scammers tell potential buyers that the animal must be shipped from a remote location. If the people advertising the pet refuse to make arrangements for an in-person introduction so the buyer can actually meet the pet, consider that a big red flag. So are requests to send money to a third party who will take over responsibility for transporting the animal: In addition to creating phony websites to advertise the animals, the scammers frequently develop bogus websites for what appear to be legitimate transportation companies.

According to the BBB report, most of these online puppy scams originate in the country of Cameroon in West Africa. In some cases, the grifters running the con from Cameroon use Cameroonians living in the US to collect the money from victims through services such as Western Union.

Typically when victims are asked to pay to have the pet shipped to them, they’re often asked to buy or rent a special crate for transporting the animal. If the victim complies, the emboldened thieves may ask the victim to pay additional fees for special insurance or vaccinations. Another common ploy is to claim the pet is stuck in transit and even more money is needed for food and water.

Basically, the more money the victim sends, the more money the thieves will ask for.

In order to prevent this happening to your clients and others, pass along these tips from the BBB on avoiding online puppy scams:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing him in person. Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud.
  • Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union.
  • Research prices for the breed they’re advertising. If someone is offering a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, that’s another big red flag.

If someone you know falls victim to a puppy scam, encourage them to file a report with the BBB’s Scam Tracker, register a complaint with, or call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP.

You wouldn’t let a client fall for the Nigerian Prince scam. Don’t let them fall for the Cameroonian Canine scam.

Photo credit: © iStock/natasaadzic

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