RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The COVID-19 pandemic is making criminals rich in many ways and one of the ways is to tug on your heartstrings by offering pets for sale online — pets that just don’t exist.
With people spending more time at home, the Better Business Bureau says it has seen a huge spike in pet scams.
They’re online. They’re cute. They’re cuddly, and they’re counterfeit.
“It’s never a real animal, they’re just using fake images to entice consumers,” said Catherine Honeycutt of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina.
The pet scam isn’t new, but since COVID-19 entered our lives it’s exploded with 70 percent of people looking for furry friends online being victimized.
“Pet scams were the riskiest scam in 2020, with a median loss of over $700,” said Honeycutt.
When they hook you, the scammers will take you for as much as they canm asking for more and more money and offering excuse after excuse about why they need more cash.
“Once you make the purchase, not only do you not receive the animal, but often they need more funding to get it to you,” said Honeycutt.
Here’s how it works:
Criminals steal online pictures of real animals for sale. When you respond, they ask for a cash deposit. Then they keep asking for more cash.
They’ll ask for cash for special shipping, cash for vaccinations, and cash for so-called USDA certificates.
“In this situation, the buyers never see the pet in person, and they never see the seller in person,” said Honeycutt. “The buyer may not even know where the animal is coming from.”
When it comes to a pet scam, there are lots of red flags that’ll warn you. Here are things to avoid:
- Don’t be rushed into a purchase
- Don’t buy until you see the pet in-person
- Be wary of internet apps/or wire transfer cash payments.
Another variation on the scheme has the criminal taking your cash then sending you to an empty home or fake address to pick up the non-existent pet.
Because these criminals are online, they also leave an online trail, so use the internet to research these folks, officials say.
Check to see if they are they credentialed, or if there have been any complaints lodged against them.
Also, do a Google reverse image search on the photo of the pet to see if it’s listed elsewhere on the internet for sale