Keeping your sensitive information protected is more difficult than ever. That's because cybercriminals are ruthless and set no limits on who they target. If you have yet to check if you're personal data was exposed by the massive Equifax data breach, click here to do so.
Now, there's a tricky puppy scam spreading online that you really need to watch out for. It could end up costing you big time.
Watch out for these fraudulent dog sales scams
We're talking about scams involving fraudulent dog sales. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers about an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting victims. The scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.
BBB estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and across the globe may have already fallen victim to the scam. Most victims get reeled into the scam by pictures of adorable puppies, kittens, parrots, or other animals. Prospective buyers are losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars on each transaction.
A BBB spokesperson said, "These cases can be devastating to families who are waiting for pets that will never come. These are not just a few isolated cases of naive consumers being taken. This is a highly organized, international scheme focused on one thing - stealing people's money."
Here's how the scam works. Thieves are impersonating pet sellers and instruct potential buyers to wire payments upfront to cover costs like shipping, insurance, and fees associated with transporting the animal. In most cases, buyers do not receive their pets and lose their money.
The BBB International Investigations Initiative conducted an extensive study of online puppy scams and the results are shocking. The main finding is that at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.
The scam is so rampant, the BBB strongly suggests following these tips for avoiding puppy scams:
Don't buy a pet without seeing it in person
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.
Choose the form of payment wisely
Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or Moneygram. If you do and the deal goes bad you most likely won't get your money back. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
Do your research
Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. Instead of searching for pets online, the Humane Society refers consumers to local shelters. Click here to find a shelter in your area, or click here to find a reputable breeder.
Report puppy scams
If you have been a victim of a puppy scam, you need to report it. Click here to file a report with BBB's Scam Tracker. You can also click here to file a complaint on PetScams.com, which was built to disrupt websites created by scammers.
Now that you know what to look for, you can safely find your next cuddly pet. Don't forget to warn friends and family of these scams by clicking the share button on the left side of this article and post it to Facebook.