New York State Police are issuing a warning to those looking to add a furry friend to their family, saying a thief is preying on customers and scamming them out of hundreds of dollars.
Puppies are always in high demand, but during the pandemic, that demand has spiked. And with higher demand, comes an increase in scams, warned Claire Rosenzweig, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of New York.
"It's literally exploded, puppy scams have been around for years but nothing like it is right now," Rosenzweig said. "These pet scammers are hard to find, so we always say prevention is the key here."
There were more than 4,000 reports of pet-related scams in 2020 in the U.S. and Canada. Just in November, there were 337 scams reported — a dramatic increase from the same time in 2019, when just 77 such claims were reported.
The New York State Police said that people responded to ads thinking they were buying a puppy, so they sent a deposit — and got nothing in the end.
"If they are only talking to you via text, and the first thing they ask for is money, that's a huge red flag," said Brandi Hunter, the Vice President of Public Relations and Communications for the American Kennel Club. She said that a reputable breeder is much more likely to ask many questions, trying to figure out if the dog is going to a good home. Hunter also recommends being mindful of the price.
"During a pandemic, the demand for a dog is high. So if you're seeing something way too good to be true, they are either not well-bred, or they don't exist," said Hunter.
A colleague at NBC recently sent $500 to buy a dog she saw pictured online. All the transactions were discussed via text message — and she became the victim of a scam.
The BBB shared some tips to avoid that kind of situation, such as doing a reverse image search and seeing how many times the pet's image appears online. It is also a good idea to have a video chat with the seller, in order to actually see them and the dog itself.
The agency also recommends not sending cash if possible, and to search the company on the BBB scam tracker website.
"It's emotional and whenever you have something like that, scammers will take advantage," said Rosenzweig.