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Don't get Scammed. Adopting a Puppy Online

Introduction and Summary Fraud in the sale of online pets is on the rise, with scammers victimizing American consumers at an alarming rate. In recent years, Americans have filed thousands of complaints with law enforcement, consumer organizations, and online websites. And while the ages of the victims run the gamut, from the very young to senior citizens, studies have shown that an unusually high number of those targeted in the schemes are in their late teens or 20s. The scheme usually depends on bogus, often sophisticated, advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers. Incredibly, experts believe at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. It can be difficult to navigate an online search for a pet without coming across a bogus website. This scheme appears primarily centered in Cameroon in West Africa and is the subject of law enforcement and media reports across the U.S. and Canada. prevalentSeveral recent arrests demonstrate that thieves are using Cameroonians residing in the U.S. to collect money from victims through Western Union and MoneyGram outlets. It is not difficult to understand why the scheme is so pervasive in the U.S. – and so successful. Puppy ownership is extremely popular, and the selection and purchase of a pet are viewed as the first step toward bringing a new and beloved member into the family. Pets offer companionship and comfort; a new puppy or kitten can quickly become a center point in the life of its owner. In the current digital age, it is no surprise that the first step in many people’s search for a new pet begins with the Internet. Alas, even the most careful online InternetexaminationInternet will likely put a consumer in contact with a potential thief. Reports show thousands of people around the country, and the world, who have become victims of pet scams. Many of these typically begin with a fake website and stolen photos, often taken from a legitimate site. Greedy “sellers” rarely are satisfied with stealing a few hundred dollars from their victims. Most will demand additional payments until the buyer becomes suspicious or runs out of funds. Simply put, many pets marketed online do not exist – at least not as advertised. In virtually all cases, the scammers never own the animals described on the sites. While some scammers offer “free” pets, others offer animals for sale at deeply discounted prices. Those paying for the pet are almost always asked to send money through Western Union or MoneyGram. In nearly every fraud case, the thieves instruct the potential buyer that an animal must be shipped from a remote location. The fraudsters don’t arrange an in-person meeting with a potential buyer. They often ask victims to send money to a supposed third party who will take over responsibility for transporting the animal. In addition to creating phony websites to advertise the animals, the thieves will similarly develop bogus websites that appear to be legitimate transport companies. Those who pay for pet shipping often are asked to buy or rent a special crate for the pet, and if they are successful in obtaining payment for that, they may follow up with requests for special insurance or shots for the animals. The thieves may sometimes claim the pet is stuck at an airport in transit and additional money is needed for food and water. The requests for money on one pretext or another will continue as long as the victim sends money. Eventually, most victims realize something is wrong and bInternetearching the internet for stories and alerts on pet fraud before ultimately realizing they have been duped. At this point, the thief usually claims the pet is at the airport and threatens the potential buyer with criminal charges for "animal abandonment" unless still more money is forthcoming. John Goodwin, Senior Director of the Humane Society of the United States, says that while there is a criminal charge for animal abandonment, it would never be enforced, especially since no animal was ever shipped. Potential victims can easily become so emotionally invested in preparing for their new puppy that they are devastated on finally learning the animal does not exist. BBB urges the public to be on guard against online pet scams, inspect an animal in person before paying money, and pay by credit card if you do not make an online purchase. Also, potential buyers often can detect fraud by conducting an internet search of the picture of the pet. You may be dealing with fraud if the same picture appears on other sites. This report attempts to examine the scope of this problem, who is behind it, the efforts of law enforcement to address the issue, and some tips for avoiding this fraud. Real Stories Yahong Zhang of Omaha, Neb., recently lost $1,200 in a puppy scam. Zhang said he had arranged to ship two puppies to his six-year-old son after the boy promised to practice his piano lessons regularly. After ordering the Husky puppies through the site, www.huskieshaven. Com, he realized he had been duped. When Yahong finally stopped sending money, he was told the puppies would die. He says, “NEVER pay by money wiring, and NEVER pay for a puppy unless you’ve seen it in person.” Kanetria Hutcherson said that after her 10-year-old daughter’s cat disappeared, she searched the internet for a small dog to live in the family’s Oakland, Calif., apartment. On the site, Hutcherson found a notice from what purported to be a family in Baltimore claiming they traveled often and needed a home for their two puppies. The ad included a photograph of a cute teacup Yorkie. Hutcherson called the number on the ad, and the owner asked for a $195 shipping fee to transport the animal. Soon after wiring the $195 fee through MoneyGram, Hutcherson received an email appearing to be from Delta Air Cargo claiming the animal needed a special crate before it could be put on the plane. She wired an additional $240 after being told the payment was refundable. The next day Hutcherson received an email saying that the dog had been transported as far as Oklahoma City, and she was instructed to purchase health insurance for the dog at an additional cost of $980. She asked why the payment had not been disclosed earlier and began suspecting she was being defrauded. At that point, the “seller” threatened to call the FBI and have her charged with animal abandonment. An email that appeared to be from Delta Airlines instructed her to send another $200 through MoneyGram to Cameroon, which she did. A day later, scammers told her the dog was in New Mexico and instructed her to pay another $150 for food and water for the animal. She ultimately paid another $83 through MoneyGram after saying she could not pay the full amount. She was contacted again the next day and told the puppy was ill and needed to be quarantined. The new charge: is $1900. Her tragic odyssey finally ended when she contacted Delta Air Cargo and learned she had been scammed. She filed complaints with the FBI and BBB. By the time she discovered the ruse, she had spent $968 for what had been described as a “free” puppy and had no dog. Even after she complained to the FBI, the thieves continued contacting her, asking for additional payments. She reports that throughout the ordeal, her daughter often cried herself to sleep. Hutcherson, herself says she still can’t sleep because of the stress. She said she borrowed part of the money she sent and is having trouble paying her bills. Mike Wilborn, a barber in Plainfield, Ill., barely escaped becoming a victim in a pet scam. He had agreed to pay $650 to buy and ship an English Bull Dog puppy for his daughter through the website Tipped by what they thought was a suspiciously low price, his daughter did an internet image search on the animal she was planning to adopt. She discovered the identical photo of the dog had been posted on an internet site eight years before. At that point, Wilborn contacted BBB to inform it of the fraud. Olivia Bryant of Dallas, Tex., was retired from the Postal Service and looking for a puppy. She does not use the internet all that often, but went online and found a puppy at www. premium-rottweiler. com. After texting and emailing, she sent $702 through MoneyGram to the “breeder” in Worthington, Ohio, for the dog, shipping, and a crate. The next day she received a call from a “second company” saying that she had bought the wrong crate and would need to pay another $1000 for a new one, but this money would be refundable. She told the fraudsters that she knew it was a scam and would report it. She then filed complaints with MoneyGram and BBB. How big is the problem? Complaint numbers only hint at the size of the scheme. This BBB study suggests the actual numbers of pet fraud may be much higher than reported because many victims either choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help. BBB ScamTracker contains 907 reports on this type of fraud, 12.5% of all complaints involving online purchase fraud. The Federal Trade Commission prepared an internal report in 2015 that found some 37,000 complaints that refer to issues involving pets, and the vast majority of those are believed to be pet sales scams. FTC national studies have determined that less than 10 percent of victims of any fraud ever complain to the FTC or a BBB. Complaints made exclusively to police agencies are not included in the National Consumer Sentinel Database. The U.S. is far from alone in seeing complaints about this problem. In just the first six months of 2017, the Australian Competition Commission received 337 pet complaints, ten from overseas. And the Canadian Antifraud Centre had an all-time high number of complaints in 2016 involving animals, with 377 complaints and losses totaling $222,000. The Humane Society reports that it also noticed an increased number of complaints, and the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, where many of these frauds originate, says on its website that it has noted a “dramatic increase” in fraud from that country in recent years. Who are the victims of this fraud? Anyone looking for a pet is a potential victim. The FTC concluded that most victims are in their 20s and 30s. These age groups grew up with the Internet and thus may be more likely to look for a pet online instead of going to a local breeder or searching in other ways. What is the average loss to victims? The FTC and BBB have found most victims lose between $100 and $1000. But some have lost considerably more. In one case, a victim lost $5,000. What kinds of pets are most often offered? Because the scammers do not need actual pets available for sale, it is simple to advertise breeds that are most popular – and often those hardest to obtain. Today, many complaints involve Yorkshire Terriers (Yorkies) and French Bulldogs. has provided a breakdown of the pet websites they have flagged as fraudulent for six weeks between May 29, 2017, and July 12, 2017. The largest number of bogus websites they identified were selling Yorkshire terriers (108), French Bulldogs (105), Pomeranians (77), Bulldogs (73), and Huskies (63). Evolution of the scam Like many frauds, this one has adapted and evolved over the years. The early versions typically involved scammers posting a simple classified ad offering a free pet, with the owner explaining that he or she was being relocated to another country or could no longer keep the animal for some other reason. But while there was no charge for the animal itself, the scammers insisted the potential buyer pay for transportation and other costs associated with getting the pets to their new owners. More recently, these frauds involve selling animals at low prices – usually well below the charges of actual breeders. Similarly, later requests ask for additional money for shipping costs and other expenses that supposedly go to third parties. The FTC report found that the average loss was usually around $300. Where are victims located? BBB and FTC found victims across the U.S. Not surprisingly, the most populous states had the most complaints, led by California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. Bogus websites used for selling or shipping the pet Any serious effort to disrupt this fraud must address the online avenues employed to defraud victims. There are only a few components needed to run an online pet scheme. The thieves need a domain name for a site, which can be easily purchased online. They also need a hosting company with servers to contain the site, which they can buy online. They need site content, which they can create or steal from the actual site of a pet breeder or shipping company. They need a phone number, which they can obtain from a voice-over-internet protocol phone or a cheap cell phone, and email addresses to communicate. Finally, some thieves may pay for internet advertising to get more people to their websites, such as sponsored links. Those drawn to a pet thief will find various web pages set up as part of the schemes. One set of websites advertises the pets for sale. A separate site, bogus and set up by the frauds, will provide information on how to ship the pet. This BBB study found that thieves copied the website of one Florida breeder and used it to defraud people looking for French Bulldogs. Jordan Mills is a lifelong animal lov