Thinking about getting a pet? Be careful if you're looking to buy one online, say Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and Indiana State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM.
Both offices have received complaints from Hoosiers who have made down payments on animals they found online -- only to find out the pet didn't actually exist and they were being ripped off.
“These scammers know that increased numbers of people are shopping online during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Attorney General Hill said. “They’re banking on consumers’ willingness to arrange delivery of pets sight unseen — other than the cute pictures consumers may have seen on the internet.”
The scammers will sometimes create websites to make it look like they are operated by legitimate organizations, either selling or adopting out pets. They may even advertise the websites on social media or via email.
The fraudulent ads often feature photos of puppies or kittens, said Dr. Marsh, who leads the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
“Most times the pet does not actually exist at all,” he said. “And scammers try to milk their victims for as much money as possible.”
After a pet is ordered and payment is made for the pet and shipping charges, would-be buyers often learn the other fees are required -- often for vaccinations or other veterinary care. Scammers also make up stories about additional shipping expenses, sometimes claiming that an animal has landed in another state and requires payment for some kind of permit.
According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly 10,000 scam reports and complaints have been filed over the last three years about businesses selling puppies and dogs.
Tips if you are interested in purchasing a dog online:
Meet the pet in person if at all possible.
Never pay any fee to obtain an animal that you have not seen with your own eyes (as opposed to via pictures or videos online).
Don’t pay to ship a pet if you can’t verify the seller is a reputable breeder or rescue organization.
Do your homework on the seller before sending any form of payment. Look for contact information, check credentials, and confirm reviews from previous clients.
If you virtually chat with the seller, watch for odd phrasing or typos.
If the seller asks you to pay via wire transfer or gift card, don’t. There’s a huge chance it’s a scam.
If anyone asks you to send money overseas, particularly to pet adoption scam hotspots such as Cameroon or India, it is a scam.
Beware of “free” pet offers online. These are often simply ruses to get you to pay shipping or other fees for non-existent animals.
The American Kennel Club is a good source of information for consumers looking for reputable, ethical breeders. Often your local veterinarian can be a resource for identifying reputable sources of pets, such as rescue groups.
If you believe you're a victim of a scam, you should file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General at indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-800-382-5516.