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Pet buyers, beware fraudsters

Susan Ladika

How much is that doggie on the Internet? The one with the waggly tail? How much is that doggie in the window? You’d better hope that dog’s really for sale.

Some consumers have wound up forking out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a cute little puppy or kitty that doesn’t even exist.

Now Fraud.org is letting the cat out of the bag, warning about scammers who post photos online of cuddly canines and felines who are looking for new homes. The crooks demand payment upfront, then steal your cash without sending you Princess or Prince.

Pet buyers, beware fraudsters

In reality, they’ve simply lifted the photos of precious pooches and pusses off the Internet, and claimed them as their own.

Since the start of the year, Fraud.org, which is run by the National Consumers League, has received a wave of complaints about pet adoption scams.

You can also find warnings on the websites of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) about this latest fraud. The IPATA site even has a list of known fraudulent websites and email addresses.

The fraud works something like this:

You’re looking online for an irresistible pet on a site such as Craigslist or Oodle.com and find a face you just can’t resist.
You contact the seller and are asked to send money by prepaid card or wire transfer to purchase your fuzzy new family member. Then the “seller” will continue to hound you for money, asking for cash for things such as a shipping crate or insurance.

Fraud.org shares the experience of a Massachusetts mother who was searching online for a Yorkshire terrier puppy online for her children. Rather than winding up with a cute little companion, she was out almost $3,000.

First she was asked to send $500 on a prepaid card, which was supposed to cover all costs. Then she was asked for $970 via Western Union to pay for a dog crate. That money was supposed to be refunded when the pup arrived. Then it was $1,500 for refundable insurance, sent by MoneyGram.

When she was asked for $760 for vaccinations, she realized she’d been scammed, and reported the incident to Fraud.org.

The ASPCA’s website has similar tales of woe, including Nigerian puppy scams. The crooks say they are in Nigeria, and may even claim to be missionaries, and will send you a precious pup … if you just pay shipping fees. Or a crook may claim to be giving a pet away for free to a good home … as long as you pay the shipping charges.

Even more heartbreaking is the ASPCA’s story of an elderly Florida couple who were bilked out of $300 after their cat slipped out an open door. They posted fliers looking for Baby. A fraudster claimed the missing cat had slipped into his moving van, and the couple paid $300 to have Baby shipped back home. The cat and the cash were never seen again.

These scams seem particularly cruel. But perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, given the way Americans love pets.
Two-thirds of households own a pet, spending more than $58 billion on these companions, according to the American Pet Products Association. Americans owned more than 85 million cats and more than 75 million dogs.

So you don’t wind up paying out scratch for a fictitious pet, Fraud.org offers tips for sniffing out fraud. They include:

  • Never send money for a pet unless you’ve seen it in person.
  • Avoid requests for payment via prepaid cards or wire transfer.
  • Be wary of sellers who claim to be located out of town or overseas.
  • Do your due diligence before sending payment. Check to see if there are any negative online reviews of the seller.
  • Consider adopting from a local shelter or rescue group.

Do those things, and you should be able to stay out of the financial doghouse when looking for your new pet.

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