Puppy scams remain consistently profitable for scammers because their multi-tiered setup allows them to convincingly go back to a consumer several times to ask for money, according to an update of a Better Business Bureau® (BBB®) study.
So far this year, while pet scams in North America appear to be on the decline, consumer losses are expected to exceed $2 million. That total is down by a third since the peak of more than $3 million during the pandemic in 2020-2021, according to BBB Scam TrackerSM. However, average monetary losses are climbing, with an average loss of $850 in 2022, up 60% since 2017. BBB has tracked this since 2017 when it issued an in-depth study, Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers.
Pet scams historically make up a quarter of all online shopping frauds reported to BBB and are on track to be about 18% this year.
Because purchasing a pet can be such an emotionally charged experience, BBB urges consumers to be on high alert for scams.
Puppy scammers lure people in with fake websites and promises of cute puppies, then ask for more money for shipping or special crates. Consumers say it is easy to be swept up in the moment's emotions when buying a pet and push forward despite reservations.
BBB Scam Tracker reports show that those who encounter a pet scam often try to purchase pets without seeing them in person, use hard-to-track payment methods like payment apps, and accept extra charges like shipping insurance or special cages.
Yorkies, Dachshunds and French Bulldogs make up nearly 30% of all puppy scams, according to 2022 BBB Scam Tracker reports. However, consumers mentioned more than 40 breeds, meaning buyers should be cautious when shopping for any breed online.
Many bogus puppy websites, often registered outside of North America, appear and vanish quickly, hampering law enforcement efforts. Prosecutions in puppy scam cases are tough to crack, as perpetrators are often outside the country. Still, law enforcement arrested a woman in San Antonio for her alleged role in 75 scams. She faces six months in jail.
BBB tips for researching puppy sellers
• See pets in person before paying any money.
• Try to set up a video call to view the animal.
• Conduct a reverse image search on photos attached to ads.
• Research the breed to figure out the average market price.
• Check out a local animal shelter for pets to meet in person before adopting.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a puppy scam:
• Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report fraud online.
• Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
• Your credit card issuer – report the incident if you shared your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed. Monitor your statements and if you suspect fraud, ask for a refund.
• Petscams.com - petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites tracks complaints, catalogs puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken offline.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2021, people turned to BBB more than 200 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 25,000 charities, free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas, which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.
Heather Massey, Vice President of Communications
BBB Media Office