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Scam warning: Fake puppy sellers are scamming people online

What comes to mind when you think of scams? Most people conjure up images of sketchy emails asking for large bank deposits or scam phone calls requesting personal information under the guise of official government business.

Scams are just a part of life. Where there is money to be made, there will be scammers in the mix. Things have gotten especially nasty during the pandemic as the number of scams making the rounds are out of control. Tap or click here to see why so many COVID phishing scams are going around.

Most people don’t associate puppies with typical schemes, but reports of pet-related scams have apparently skyrocketed during the pandemic. The issue has gotten so out of hand that the Better Business Bureau has issued multiple warnings about puppy-related scams to help you avoid losing money.

The phony puppy website scam

A recent warning from the BBB notes that victims from four states have reported an online company,, that claims to have teacup French Bulldog puppies for sale out of Memphis, TN. Victims filed scam reports with BBB in the last few days, and each lost between $500 and $750. None of the victims received their puppies after payment.

Related: The 6 worst scams on the internet

One of the reported victims, a Memphis woman, says she paid $650 upfront for one of the puppies on Cylix Frenchies’ website. She told the seller that she would pick up the puppy the same day, but they sent her a contract showing a balance for shipping, insurance and medication instead.

“I disputed the charge with my credit card company,” she told BBB.

Another victim, a Missouri woman, said the company only communicated with her via text message and asked for payment through a peer-to-peer cash transfer app. She paid for her puppy using the app requested by the seller, but rather than ship the puppy, the company asked for more money for charges related to a thermal shipping crate that they said was necessary due to COVID-19.

“When you ask for your money back, they get silent,” she told BBB.

Two more victims who filed scam reports with BBB of the Mid-South reported that the company stopped communicating once they received payment.

The company’s website claims that the business is “a small family-owned kennel concentrating on breeding superior Teacup French Bulldog Puppies as family pets,” according to the BBB, and is supposedly located in “beautiful Memphis, Tennessee.”

However, when looked at closely, there are a couple of warning signs that this could be a scam. The first is that the company, which claims to be in Memphis, doesn’t give a physical address on its site. The other is that website was recently created on June 10, 2020, and was privately registered, meaning no contact information is publicly available.

Related: Americans were scammed out of $2.7 billion online in 2018

The increase of puppy and pet-related scams

Fraud regarding the sale of online pets has continued to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the BBB, this is due to people turning to the internet to find a pet, thinking a pandemic puppy or kitten would help ease some of the uncertainty of current events.

Scammers are taking advantage of people seeking pets online by advertising animals that don’t exist and obviously are never shipped. Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic have given scammers an excuse to ask for money upfront or to make excuses as to why buyers can’t see the pet in person.

These scam sites can be hard to discern from legitimate sites. Many of them use stolen photos that are often lifted from a legitimate site, making it difficult to spot the fakes.

According to the BBB:

  • The biggest increase in online shopping fraud is pet scams; the BBB has received more than 2,100 reports of puppy scams so far in 2020.
  • At least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
  • Pet scams comprise 24% of online scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker.
  • The typical dollar amount lost to a pet scam is $700, one of the highest for all categories of scams.
  • Of those targeted for a pet scam, 70% end up losing money.

Tips for avoiding these types of scams

In general, there are some ways you can help shield yourself from scams like these, including:

  • Do your research. This goes for any purchase. When it comes to pets, don’t buy one without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, conduct an internet search of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it’s likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Avoid wiring money, or using a cash app or gift card to pay sellers of any type. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Fraudsters may claim to accept credit cards but may steal your card information to use in other schemes or inform you that payment didn’t go through.
  • Research prices. If a purebred dog or item you’re buying is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, it could be a fraudulent offer. The same goes for an item you’re buying — if the price is extremely low, it could be a scam.
  • When buying or selling on a site that offers protection to buyers and sellers, take advantage of them. If a buyer or seller tries to persuade you to go outside the site’s usual process or payment methods, that’s a big red flag.
  • If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission.

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