Tens of thousands of children around the country will be getting a holiday puppy this year, but others will end up empty-handed and disappointed, ripped off by a puppy scam that has only gotten worse during the pandemic.
So before you start looking for one, we have the warning signs a cute pup you find for sale is really a scam to steal your heart and your money.
Penny Lloyd wanted to buy her kids a Yorkshire Terrier puppy -- a Yorkie -- for their home this Christmas.
"It was going to be a Christmas gift," she said.
She found an ad on Facebook offering discount puppies.
"I saw this advertisement on Facebook, and I opened up the app and it said 'Yorkies for sale, half price, originally $1,400 on sale for $700.'"
It was a great price; so, she messaged the seller.
"I did, but I never got any response," Lloyd said.
It's probably a good thing she never heard back, according to the Better Business Bureau, which says there is a good chance it was a scammer who would have asked for a deposit.
That is what happened to Jo Standridge last year. She wired $400 via Western Union to a website -- now gone -- called Best Mini Shnauzers.com.
That was the end of the seller, and of her puppy dreams.
"I tried to text him numerous times after that," she said. "Called him, couldn't get through. That was the end of the communications. Nothing."
Puppy scam worsens during pandemic
The puppy scam has been around for more than five years, but the BBB says this year it's getting worse because so many people want either a "pandemic puppy" or a holiday puppy.
Sara Kemerer of the Better Business Bureau said real puppy photos get reposted at counterfeit websites.
"It's very easy for scammers to steal a video or picture of a pet from the internet to make the pet seem real," she said.
But the pups are always out of town, and the seller will ask hundreds of dollars for shipping and insurance.
Once you wire them the money, they and their ad disappear.
How to protect yourself
So what can you do? Kemerer says ask for video of the seller with the pup. Ask them to hold it up in front of their phone.
"You can ask the breeder to do a video call using FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype to see if that pet is actually real," she said.
Chances are Penny Lloyd's Yorkie seller would have refused, because he never had any puppies.
Warning signs include:
- The dog is out of town, and you cannot see it in person
- The breeder needs to ship it to you
- The breeder needs money for shipping and insurance
- The seller will not take a credit card (where a fraudulent charge can be disputed)
- The seller cannot do a Zoom or Facetime video with you where he is holding the puppy (because he has no puppy)
The best way to avoid a puppy scam is to shop local and avoid any puppy that has to be shipped to you.
Or better yet, adopt an unwanted dog so you don't waste your money.
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