Scammers are using cute and cuddly pictures of puppies to lure in tens of thousands of unsuspecting victims around the U.S., an investigation by the Better Business Bureau has found.
The BBB found that at least 80 percent of sponsored advertising links that appear in Internet searches for pets may be fraudulent. Most of the scams use photos of puppies, but other victims were drawn in with pictures of kittens, parrots or other animals.
The scam involves websites advertising specific breeds of puppies for purchase that then are never delivered when ordered.
Scammers typically ask for a deposit to be wired via Western Union or Moneygram. They then often ask for more money for shipping, insurance and other fees associated with transporting the animals. The thieves usually require correspondence be done by email, text message or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is denied.
Locally, the BBB has received about 900 reports of the scam, said Jim Hegarty, president of the BBB serving Nebraska. Law enforcement and the BBB believe the scam is so pervasive in part because people are embarrassed to report that they were victims.
Most of the scams originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the United States to pick up wire payments.
Among local victims were Judy and Phil Stroy of Murdock, Nebraska. After their beagle died, the couple were on the hunt for a new beagle puppy. Judy found one online said to be in Dallas. She talked with a man on the phone who requested $400 via Moneygram. After the couple made the payment, the man said he would then need $750 for shipping insurance. The Stroys refused, and then were unable to reach the man who had already picked up the $400.
Judy Stroy said looking back, there were red flags, such as misspelled words on the website or oddly phrased sentences.
“There’s all kinds of red flags out there if you know what you’re looking for or you’re suspicious,” she said.
Some tips on how to avoid the scam, say the BBB:
>>Look for pets at a local animal shelter or a local animal rescue. Such pets are vaccinated and in good health before they can be adopted.
>>If you want to buy a dog online locally, request a visit to the breeder’s property. “If they won’t, that’s usually a red flag,” said Mark Langan, vice president…