I-TEAM: Couple loses hundreds of dollars in puppy scam

BBB issues holiday alert following surge in pet scam complaints

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Admit it, even on a bad day, puppy pictures make your eyes sparkle and your lips turn up into a smile. Well, scammers know it and are taking advantage of it – breaking your heart and your bank account all at the same time. There’s been such an increase in the number of reports and complaints about pet scams, the Better Business Bureau has issued an alert for the holidays.

The BBB is warning people who are searching online for new pets that they will be hit with plenty adorable, heart-melting ads. Unfortunately, a BBB study found many of those ads are scams -- making it very likely you’ll encounter one. Chris Verderane and his girlfriend did.

“That’s what got her. She was hooked -- line and sinker. That’s the one she had to have,” Verderane said about his girlfriend after spotting pictures of a puppy for sale online. “She wanted something like a Teddy bear, basically 8 to 10 pounds.”

Chris Verderane talks with Jennifer Waugh
Chris Verderane talks with Jennifer Waugh (WJXT)

Verderane says he and his girlfriend wanted a toy poodle and found one for a great price on LoyalPoodle.com. He said he thought the site was legitimate as it contained a copyright along with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram logos. When the I-TEAM searched this website, we found warnings from consumers about it and complaints filed about that site and others with the Better Business Bureau.

Verderane said he and his girlfriend did not see those complaints until it was too late. The website does not appear to be active any longer.

The price for the puppy they found was $650, even though pedigree toy poodles can cost thousands of dollars.

The couple sent the money through Western Union and then finally received a phone number to arrange for pick- up of the poodle in North Carolina. “When I called it, it was a google voice, I knew we had been scammed,” he said. Hoping he was wrong, he pressed the voice on the other end of the phone for a pick-up time. “I told him we'd be there at 10 to pick up the dog, and he said, ‘You can't do that we're busy.’ He told me noon and he sent me an address,” Verderane explained. “As soon as I Googled the address he sent me, with a name variation of what he sent me, it was a house under contract that was for sale.”

Verderane had a friend who lived nearby and asked him to go over to the house. He confirmed no one was there, the house was in fact for sale and when he talked with a neighbor, said he was told another couple had gone to the same house to purchase and dog and had left empty-handed.

Verderane said he wished he and his girlfriend hadn’t ignored the red flags.

He told the I-TEAM:

  • There was no phone number on the website.
  • After pressing for a contact number after sending the money, it was Google Voice.
  • Emails leading up to the deal had typos and misspellings, which experts say suggests the person typing is not in the United States.

Verderane said after he and his girlfriend realized they had been scammed, they found the same pictures they fell for – of the cute, little puppy they thought they purchased – on other websites. They think the scammers had copy and pasted the pictures from legitimate sites.

A couple found this puppy photo while looking for a pet online
A couple found this puppy photo while looking for a pet online (Special to WJXT)

“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in highly emotional situations,” said Tom Stephens, president, and CEO of BBB serving Northeast Florida & The Southeast Atlantic. “The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud judgment, leaving victims hurt financially and emotionally when realizing they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet.”

In the last three years, BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets. From January to November of this year, there were 5,879 complaints but that number is expected to grow to nearly 6,500 before by the end of this month. The FTC estimates only about 10% of victims report these crimes, so the problem is likely more widespread.

YearEstimated complaints and scamps pertain to pet fraud
2019 (January-November)5,879
2029 (projected total)6,466

Verderane has a warning for anyone looking online to find a pet for Christmas.

“Listen to your instincts,” he said. “If your gut-feeling is telling you don’t -- don’t.”

WATCH: Tom Stephens talks to Jennifer Waugh about how to protect yourself from puppy scams

BBB explains how the pet scam works:

You find an adorable puppy on a website or an online ad. Sometimes, scammers claim to be breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved dog. Either way, once you inquire about the pet, they ask you to wire money through such services as Western Union or Moneygram to complete the purchase.

The "seller" then promises your pet will be shipped right away. There are always unexpected problems, however. Scammers use a variety of excuses, like saying the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance, all of which need to be paid in advance. With each problem, scammers promise that they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered. In many cases, neither the pet nor the refund is delivered.

BBB’s advice to protect yourself from pet scams:

  • If possible, inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Legitimate breeders usually welcome the visit.
  • Never send money via Western Union or Moneygram to people or companies you don’t know and trust. Once the money is wired, it is gone. The same goes for prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. If anyone asks you to pay for anything with a store or gift card, you may be dealing with fraud. Petscams.com also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system. BBB recommends that you do not pay for pets via Venmo, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or Facebook Payments.
  • Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.
  • Check out the website. Go to petscams.com to see if a site selling pets is bogus.
  • Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and do an internet search on the breeder’s or organization’s name.

If you have been a victim or see a puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

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