Looking for a furry friend? Don’t fall prey to “puppy scams”

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(WIVB) – How do you cure the feeling of isolation brought by losing contact with friends and loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you’re looking for a pet, you’ve got to be extra cautious- or it could make matters worse.

Consumer groups are reporting pet adoptions during the pandemic are way up. Internet scams are also spiking- as many as four out of five animal exchange websites are questionable, or at worst, fraudulent.

Dogs and cats have always been a part of Pam and Jerry Moore’s lives- but so have their five kids, and more recently, eight grandkids, who they rarely get to see now because of the pandemic.

“We are lucky, they are all still in the area but we are high-risk, so we don’t get to see them that much and if we do, it’s through windows,” Pam Moore said.

The Town of Tonawanda couple had just bought a Mal-shi puppy online, but when the puppy’s playmate died unexpectedly, they went back on the web to find another one.

They came across “Bear”, a Maltese puppy listed on a puppy website.

The price was $750 including shipping.

But a couple of days before the puppy was supposed to arrive, they got a phone call demanding more money.

“It is $1,000 for customs in Pennsylvania,” Jerry Moore said. “I said ‘excuse me, I drive a truck for 28 years, there is no customs in Pennsylvania, I have no ideqa what you are talking about,” Jerry Moore said. “He got irate and hung up on me.”

After a heated exchange of phone calls and text messages, Pam and Jerry figured they had been scammed.

“There are so many people out there getting ripped off,” Jerry Moore said. “It’s pathetic, which gives a good breeder a bad name.”

Gina Browning-Lattuca of the SPCA Serving Erie County said there have been a number of factors leading to the pet-buying surge- the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, confining many people to their homes for extended periods, the holiday bump of purchasing pets for gifts, and the mystique of the internet.

“People from a different state could put a beautiful puppy on- a photograph or a video- but the puppy that they have on there might not be the animal they are showing online,” she said.

Melanie McGovern, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, told us that pet scams is the top category of internet fraud complaints at the BBB.

She said that research has shown as many as 80 percent of pet exchange websites are frauds, targeting consumers who want a specific breed of animals.

“One of the red flags is that the dogs are available now,” McGovern said. “Most breeders take reservations or orders for dogs, especially purebreds.”

Cybersecurity expert Dave Newell says your best protection is using a credit card. Even in the event of fraud, the bank is obligated to investigate your claim and if warranted cover your loss.

“In a lot of cases when the fraud happens overseas, you just have no chance of getting your money back again, except for any protection that your credit card might give you,” Newell said.

Browning- Lattuca advises to buy local if possible so you can be sure of what you’re spending your hard-earned money on.

“You do want to have some idea of where the animal has lived,” she said. “You want to see at least one of the animal’s parents, you want some veterinary records, you want to know if this breeder has been responsible in seeing a veterinarian.”

McGovern agrees.

“It’s always good to stay local, absolutely- because you want to make sure that you are not losing your money and you have to drive to Arkansas to pick up the dog, which is insanely far,” she said.

After the disappointment of paying $750 and only getting a “virtual” puppy, Pam and Jerry Moore seem to be catching on.

“We are going to look somewhere local because I know for a fact that I can go to the person’s house and see the puppies, and we won’t eve do that again.” Jerry said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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