As the COVID-19 crisis continues, extended stay-at-home orders have motivated many consumers to consider buying a pet as a companion. The Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to remain vigilant when looking online for a fluffy friend, as scammers often use emotional tactics to prey on unsuspecting pet seekers.

Pet scammers typically post ads of adorable pets to lure potential pet owners into paying up front fees (usually via wire transfer or other unconventional method of payment) before receiving their pet. Consumers have reported to the BBB that disreputable sellers also are demanding additional delivery fees for extra precautions that need to be taken during the current crisis. Once the seller receives the money, neither they nor the pet are to be found.

According to a recent BBB International Investigative Study, as many as 80% of online ads may be fraudulent. That’s why it’s so important to purchase from a reputable company or breeder and to see the pet in person.

The BBB provides the following tips to avoid falling for a pet scam:

Choose local. Resist purchasing/adopting unless you can visit the shelter, owner or breeder before you pay and avoid buying or adopting a puppy or other pets from out of state. When you have a pet shipped from another area, you don’t know really how healthy or young it is, or if the pet exists at all.

Verify information. Remember that paperwork from a dishonest seller may not be legitimate. Report a suspected pet hoax to BBB Scam Tracker and look for clues by searching similar scams. Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site. Take your time, do your research and consider taking home a rescue pet from a local shelter.

Ask for medical records and pedigree. Get a written account of all medical care your puppy has received, including vaccinations and antibiotics. Take the records to your vet during the first examination, which should be within a few days of bringing your puppy home. Check with an authority on dog breeds, like the American Kennel Club, which can provide breeder search tips, questions to ask and other information.

Don’t be swayed by a fancy website. A flashy website is not an indication of ethics or integrity. Fraudulent websites appear and disappear like a game of cat and mouse. Use a Google reverse image search to see if the same pets are advertised on other web addresses.

Make sure the price makes sense. Check several sources to find the average price of a given breed. If it sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance that it is.

Watch for scammer grammar. Beware of emails with multiple misspellings and grammatical errors. Many pet scams come from overseas and scammers often do not have a firm grasp on the English language.

To review the BBB’s International Investigative Study on Puppy Scams, go to bbb.org. For more tips on how to avoid COVID-19 scams, go to bbb.org/coro navirus. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.

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