Dogs from left to right:British Boxer, Greyhound, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Leonberger, Chihuahua, King Charles Spaniel, Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier, Schnauzer

The solitude of life during the coronavirus pandemic is leading many Americans to think about getting pets for companionship.

If you are one of them, be forewarned: Scammers are aware of this impulse and are seeking to exploit it.

According to a survey by Ameritrade, 33% of Americans have adopted or fostered pets in response to the pandemic or are considering it. For most people, it’s a great idea. Ameritrade’s survey found that 89% of American pet owners say their pet has brought them comfort during the pandemic and 82% say they feel less lonely because of their pet.

Sending Money for Nonexistent Animals

At the same time, however, fraudulent schemes to extract money from victims seeking animal companionship have been escalating sharply.

Fraud.org, a project of the National Consumer League, says that pet adoption scams are up 42% from last year.

Here is how they work:

Scammers place an adorable photo of a dog or cat on an online classifieds website like Craigslist. They might even be listed as “free” pets. When the victim responds and sends money to purchase the animal or pay for shipment, the scammer tells them there are a few additional costs, such as a “ventilated shipping crate” or “insurance.”

The scammer keeps asking for more money for more purposes until the buyer – now out hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars – gives up. In fact, the photo of the animal was simply one the scammer pulled off the Internet.

One of the latest scams, in Fargo, North Dakota, involved a website for kittens. One victim told police they had lost more than $2,000 paying the adoption and supposed fees for vaccinations, shipping, and permits.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the Better Business Bureau says pet scams there have tripled this year. One of the recent victims there said he lost $2,500 after responding to a website called Angelic Golden Retrievers.

Unfortunately, scammers are good at their evil craft. So, once a victim sends them money, they may never get it back.

Words to the Wise

If you are one of the many Americans who are contemplating a pet to ease the loneliness, here are a few things that Fraud.org suggests you keep in mind:

  • Never send money for a pet purchase until you have seen the animal in person.
  • Beware requests for payment via wire transfer (Western Union or MoneyGram) or prepaid debit cards. Sending money by those methods is the same as sending cash.
  • Consider adopting from a local shelter instead of a private seller.
  • Beware offers of “free” pets. Scammers know this is a good way to lure victims into sending money for shipping and other costs for nonexistent pets.

Although it may be difficult to get your money back if you have been scammed, you should still file a complaint with the consumer protection division of your state’s office of the attorney general. You can also report it to Fraud.org, the Better Business Bureau and the Human Society of the United States.

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