Puppy scams increase for the holidays

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- Scammers are using cute pics of pets and fake websites to take your money.

Last year, Kelly Lee lost her mom to COVID-19. She also suffers anxiety about going outdoors, so the Pleasant Prairie resident thought a dog would help on both fronts. Lee decided on a Pomeranian, in part because “they’re spunky and really fluffy.”

An internet search led her to a website. Lee says it looked legitimate, and she was aware of scammers. “I thought with the pictures, the video and all of that that this was a legitimate website, so I sent them the payment,” she said.

The sellers sent Lee a tracking number, but soon there was a problem with shipment, and Lee was asked to fork over more money. “It was for a health certificate. I thought this isn’t right, because we did have a prior animal shipped to us and that’s usually with the vet certificate that they would send before it would travel,” Lee said.

According to Lisa Schiller, with the Better Business Bureau, this is happening in Wisconsin and all over the country.

“Online scams have become so commonplace since COVID,” she said. Scam websites hook people in with cute pictures of animals, then hope the anticipation of a new pet, and the emotional attachment to the new member of the house, will keep your payments coming.

The BBB says 35-percent of online scams reported in 2020 are pet-related, and seven in 10 of those people lost money.

“It’s so profitable for scammers, it’s so easy for scammers to create fake websites they are continuing to do it,” Schiller said.

Kelly Lee says the site that scammed her out of $950 has been taken down, but there are plenty of others in its place.

Here are a few simple ways to spot a scam website:

  • They advertise prices for pets that are much cheaper than what licensed breeders charge. A “too good to be true” price is usually just that.
  • Right-click on the images of the pets used on the website, and do a reverse image search. If the same image is being used on a number of sites, that’s a huge red flag. “Scammers are stealing legit photos from sellers,” Schiller said.
  • Run a search on the seller’s email address and web address. Many domains are on watchlists like the BBB Scam Tracker

While they may not have specific breeds, consider adopting a pet from the Wisconsin Humane Society.

If you do decide to buy online, use PayPal or a credit card. Any seller that demands payment by money transfer apps like Cash App or Zelle could be trying to scam you, these apps offer very little protection if the purchase goes bad.

Kelly Lee learned about the scam the hard way.

“I was heartbroken that I did get scammed, because you know I really wanted this puppy,” she said. But she does have a new friend to lift her spirits. She bought little Coco Chanel from a pet store in Racine.

“When I cry or I think about my mother, or I get upset, she immediately comes to me and licks my face,” she said.

Read the recent BBB report on online purchase scams here

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