Texans looking to buy a puppy for their loved one this holiday season should be extra careful when shopping online.
According to a new study by Veterinarians.org, Texas is the No. 2 state with the most puppy fraud. Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, it clocked 242 such scams, with 28% occurring in Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. (California is the state with the most puppy fraud.)
The Lone Star State also reported an average loss of $913.20 per would-be pet owner.
“People are still not really aware of this issue,” said Lily Velez, head of special reports for Veterinarians.org. “And as we’re heading into the holidays, especially, a lot of people are going to be looking for puppies — that Christmas puppy to add to their household.”
Puppy cons have been on the rise during the pandemic. Earlier this month, Market Watch reported that a Cameroonian student pleaded guilty to participating in an online scam that tricked U.S. buyers into paying thousands for nonexistent miniature dachshunds.
These scams are occurring at a time when many are looking to pets to help cope with loneliness, Velez said. Shortly after COVID-19 struck the States, some animal shelters began reporting 100% adoption rates.
Scammers took advantage of senior citizens and others in pandemic-induced isolation as they looked to find companionship, she said.
“Everyone wanted an animal because people were dealing with depression and anxiety from all the social isolation,” Velez said.
“You just want to be really careful when you’re starting to deal with these puppy websites online.” – Lily Velez, Veterinarians.org
Many of these puppy scams take place through Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace or fake websites, Velez said. Fraudsters typically advertise purebred or designer breeds, such as French bulldogs and goldendoodles.
In the Dallas area, puppy fraud reports are 60% higher this year compared with the same time period during pre-pandemic 2019, according to Veterinarians.org. By the end of October, a cumulative total of $58,655 was lost in these 69 scams.
Such ripoffs tend to be advanced, Velez said; some scammers have even developed a tracking website that offers fake updates as the pet is purportedly shipped. But right around the time the dog is due to arrive, they’ll stop returning calls and emails.
In many cases, after a con artist receives a deposit to “reserve” the dog, they’ll ask for more money for things like shipping, a special climate-controlled crate or puppy life insurance, Velez said. If the buyer pushes back at all, the scammer might threaten to report them to the FBI for animal abuse.
“Of course, the buyer at this point is scared because nobody wants to be reported to the FBI, so they’ll send the money again,” Velez said. “So it just keeps going and going.”
Many of these con artists will create a fake breeder’s website where they’ll upload stock images of dogs and testimonials, Velez said. So, if a buyer is committed to purchasing their dog online, she strongly recommends that they use a reverse Google image search to see if the same photo was used elsewhere. They can also copy and paste testimonials into a search engine to ensure that they’re not lifted from other sites.
It’s a major red flag if a website asks for a deposit via platforms like Western Union, CashApp or Zelle, she said. Transfers on those sites can’t be recouped, so using a credit card is wiser. The biggest indication that it’s a scam is if the seller demands payment upfront.
Velez would also encourage people to consider adopting through animal shelters and rescue organizations. The American Kennel Club has a nationwide rescue network where people can find purebred rescue groups in their state.
Experts estimate that 80% of online puppy ads are most likely fraudulent, she added: “You just want to be really careful when you’re starting to deal with these puppy websites online.”