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Puppies: Scam’s Best Friend

07/27/2020
Ashleigh, K-Staff

We’ve all been at home for decades months now. It’s become apparent to many of us that something is just missing at home. What an amazing time to get a pet! Everyone is at home, we can train and look after our new pet! It’s a great distraction and a perfect time to grow our family.
 
It makes sense that with COVID-19 comes skyrocketing incidents of this scam—a threefold increase from this time last year. It’s the Puppy Scam.
 
The BBB received 1,681 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 583 for the same period last year. Overall, pet scams comprise 25% of online scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker. During the same period last year, it was 18%. The typical dollar amount lost to pet scams also rose from $655 last year to $700 this year, one of the highest for all categories. The percentage of people who reported losing money inched up from 68% last year to 70% this year.
 
It's a costly scam, and one that pulls at the heartstrings.
 

How it works

According to the American Kennel Club, puppy scammers post fake litters online or pretend to be someone they’re not (usually an existing breeder) to take advantage of puppy sales (sans the puppies.) This means that if you aren’t careful, you could find the perfect puppy, send the ‘breeder’ your money, and never receive a puppy or any follow-up communication in return.
While many times these fake listings appear on websites like Craigslist, some scammers find ways to position themselves as reputable breeders by stealing personal info from them.
 
BBB did an earlier study that found that these types of frauds depend on bogus, often sophisticated advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Experts believed, at that time, that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.
 
Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There also were several instances where the consumers wanted to see or pick-up the animal but were told that wasn't possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
 
A classic report comes from the BBB: one woman reported losing more than $1,100 to two different puppy scammers in April 2020. She said the first seller agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $500, including shipping, and had her pay with a prepaid gift card he instructed her to buy at Walmart. The woman told BBB the seller subsequently notified her that COVID-19 had delayed shipment of the puppy and would not issue her a refund; she tracked the gift card and found that it had already been spent at a Target store in Texas.
 
The woman said she subsequently made contact with another seller who agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $620, including shipping. She said after she paid half the fee, a third-party shipper contacted her and demanded $750 for a climate-controlled crate; when he offered to split that fee with her, she sent him $300. The seller and shipper subsequently both turned out to be fraudulent, and the woman did not receive refunds or either puppy.
 
“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I'm a highly educated person, but I've never felt so stupid in my entire life.”
 

How to stay safe

If you’re considering purchasing a pet, the following are best practices to keep yourself safe from a puppy scammer.
 
See the pet in person before purchasing
Reluctance to have you meet the animal should be a red flag. And when it comes to photos, scammers will often use stock images or photos off the internet when advertising for their scheme. They’ll also repeat their posts in several different places, so do a quick Google search using the text in the listing. If you’re finding the same text on a different site with different photos, that’s a warning sign.
 
Beware sketchy payment methods
If a seller is asking for money wires or gift cards, you should be on the lookout for a scam. Paying by credit card is your best option because it gives you recourse in case a deal doesn’t work out. If you pay with a gift card, wire money, or use a personal transfer service like Venmo, there is no way to retrieve your payment.
 
Research the price
These scams often advertise full-breed animals at an unbelievably low rate. Research the prices of the breed you’re considering to see what the typical price is. If the listing says the animal is registered, check out that registration before turning over any money
 
Beware extras
Scammers often try to charge money for transportation or other extra perks along the way. Be on the lookout for these.
 
Consider adopting rather than purchasing
Animal shelters nationwide are full of wonderful dogs and cats waiting for forever homes. Whether you adopt from a city shelter or one of the many rescue organizations, you have many options for getting a four-legged friend that won’t put your money in jeopardy. Fees are nominal and usually cover vaccinations, microchipping, and other costs associated with adopting out an animal.
 
If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission.
 
Get started on your puppy search safely!
 
Animal Humane New Mexico
ASPCA
Watermelon Mountain Ranch
Rio Rancho Animal Resource Center
Albuquerque Animal Welfare
 
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