GRAND RAPIDS — The Better Business Bureau is warning the public about pet fraud scams.

According to a release, the BBB Scam Tracker “shows more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown an increase demand for pets, which has led to an increase in fraud complaints.

Data suggests the issue is getting worse as the holidays approach. “The COVID bump is continuing into the holiday season with consumers reporting 337 complaints to BBB about puppy scams in November 2020, a dramatic increase from 77 for the same month in 2019,” the release said.

As a result, the BBB “advises extreme caution when shopping for a pet online, especially in light of scammers’ evolving tactics.”

A woman from Traverse City lost $2,000 to a scam in November, the release stated.

“It started with a $500 deposit paid through Zelle for a Pomeranian puppy named Moose,” the release said. “The website claims all its puppies are registered with the American Kennel Club and have a 30-day money-back guarantee. When it came time to ship the dog to Michigan the transportation company claimed it needed an additional $1,500 to upgrade the travel crate. The company promised the money would be refunded at the airport when the dog arrived.

“After paying she then got a message that the company needed an additional $2,800 for puppy insurance because the dog was stressed from the first leg of its flight. When the Traverse City woman refused to pay she was threatened with fines and possible criminal charges for puppy abandonment.”

The woman never received the dog, which the BBB said probably never existed.

According to the BBB’s Scam Tracker, the median reported loss in 2020 is $750. More than half of the people filing reports this year are between the ages of 35 and 55.

The increase of online payment options has made the problem worse.

“Scammers modify their cons to take advantage of current events,” Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, said. “COVID-19 has given these scammers another excuse to try to make these sales at arms-length, arguing customers can’t visit the dog in person due to health concerns.”

While puppies are the most common subject of scams, 12 percent of pet scam complaints reported were about kittens or cats.

To avoid being scammed, online pet fraud precautions from the BBB include:

  • See the pet in person before making any payment.
  • Perform a reverse image search of the photo of the pet and search for a distinctive phrase.
  • Do research to get a sense of a fair price.
  • Use caution with breeders offering shipping.

Visit www.BBB.org for more information.

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