It is intriguing how people find so many ways to pull innocent people into emotional traps. These scammers strike at a time when people are most vulnerable and use techniques that seem completely harmless. One such scam that gained (un)popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the dog or puppy scam, which still continues.
What is the dog / puppy / pet scam?
Scammers advertise rare or valuable dog breeds for sale online. They publish pictures and provide believable details regarding training, vaccines, and micro chipping. They claim to deliver at any location, and even go as far as to cater to interstate buyers too. They take advantage of restricted travel or customs restrictions, they then ask for online payments up front before sending the alleged “pet”. Once the payment is received, the scammers stop all communication with the buyer, and the said pet never arrives. Needless to say, they usually utilise fake identities.
When did it start?
The puppy scam has been doing rounds in one iteration or another for over a decade. But it resurfaced considerably during the Covid-19 peak between March and May 2020. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claims that Australians lost about $300,000 to puppy scams within these months in the year 2020. This is nearly 500% higher than the average annual losses to the scam.
Social distancing, isolation and lockdown during the pandemic had been a cause for loneliness amongst many Australians. People could not meet family and friends, many turned to adopting pets to ease their anxiety. The travel restrictions provided a great justification for scammers to evade any requests to physically see the pet.
How to stay safe?
This notorious scam has a standard, but effective, formula making it somewhat identifiable. The perpetrators overwhelmingly:
Claim that the dog is at a remote location to avoid showing the real thing
Ask for a price that seems to good to be true
Ask for complete and immediate online payment
Most of these advertisements have evolved through natural selection to be highly convincing. So if you notice any of the above, be extra cautious and insist on seeing the pet in real life before making any payment; even a deposit. Use the exact phrases from the ad to check if it appears on multiple websites. If you are dealing with an overseas pet breeder, ensure they are established and reputable. It is also a good idea to seek assistance from vets and local pet shops on using secure adoption channels.
Stay vigilant. As the old wise saying goes – “Caveat emptor”.