Scammers are selling nonexistent puppies online during coronavirus pandemic

Americans are being tricked into buying nonexistent puppies online during the coronavirus pandemic.

With pet adoptions soaring during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Better Business Bureau is warning of an uptick in complaints from people who say they’ve been duped by phony pet dealers online.

The consumer watchdog has fielded more reports on fraudulent puppy sales in the month of April than the first three months of the year combined, with complaints typically involving offerings for pets that don’t exist or are never shipped to the would-be owner.

“Scammers frequently take advantage of the news to find new avenues for targeting victims,” the BBB said in a recent scam alert. “The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decision to adopt a pet sight unseen, has created fertile ground for fraudsters.”

The pet scammers rely on ”bogus, often sophisticated advertisements,” according to the BBB. A 2017 BBB study into fake pet sales found that 80 percent sponsored advertising for pet sales on internet searches could be fraudulent.

One woman told the BBB she lost $1,000 on two different puppy scams this April. In the first scheme, she said a fraudster agreed to sell her a pug puppy for $500 — but made her pay with a prepaid gift card he instructed her to buy at Walmart.

The seller eventually told her that the pandemic delayed her puppy order and that he wouldn’t issue a refund. She then tracked the gift card and found it had been spent in a Texas Target.

The woman then reached an agreement with a second so-called pug pusher, who agreed to sell her a puppy for $620. After she paid half the price, another person claiming to be a third-party shipper contacted her demanding $750 for a fancy climate-controlled crate.

She sent the shipper $300, but the puppy never came.

“This seller absolutely played on my emotions and vulnerability,” the woman told BBB. “I’m a highly educated person, but I’ve never felt so stupid in my entire life.”

The BBB advises would-be pet owners not to buy a pet without seeing it in person and to avoid payments through wire transfers, cash apps or gift cards.

The group recommends buyers check local animal shelters, which are in need of fosters during the pandemic.

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