Some families looking to buy puppies for companionship during the coronavirus pandemic say they ended up getting scammed out of hundreds of dollars. Kerry De Voogd and her family were thrilled when they found a Bullmastiff puppy named Athena for sale online — it looked just like the old one they used to have.
They say the website looked legitimate and had glowing references, so they wired $850 to the breeder and excitedly waited for their new puppy to arrive.
"The girls got so excited. They were really very giddy and happy and they couldn't believe they were going to get another puppy and the puppy would be here tomorrow," Kerry told Inside Edition.
The dog was supposedly flown from Oklahoma to Atlanta, on the way to Newark, New Jersey. Everything was set, the family said, until the "shipper" called asking for a $1,500 insurance fee they said was "required" due to COVID-19.
But when daughter Kaycee did a little investigating, she said she found out there was no flight ever scheduled. There was no puppy.
“That's when I looked at my fiancé, and he looked at me and I just cried. I knew at that moment we were taken, “ Kaycee told Inside Edition.
The De Voogd family is not alone. All around the country, there are reports of cruel con artists preying on families desperate for a new pet to keep them company during the pandemic.
Krista Schafer, a high school biology teacher, fell in love with a puppy named Oreo she also found online. She shelled out $500 to buy the little guy. Then, she too was told there was an unexpected fee — $750 for a special crate the breeder said was necessary due to coronavirus.
"I'm not sending you money," Schafer said she told the scammer. "I don't have $750 more to give you."
When the breeder stopped answering her calls, she knew she'd been taken.
"I couldn't believe that this was even possible," Schafer said. "I didn't know that you could make a fake website and sell fake dogs to steal people's money."
Puppy scams are on the rise, according to the Better Business Bureau.
"People are at home, they're quarantining, they're alone," said BBB national spokesperson Katherine Hutt. "They want company. They think they're going to be adding a pet to the family and instead they get scammed and they lose money and they have nothing to show for."
Here are the BBB's tips for avoiding puppy scams:
- Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn't possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another website.
- Avoid wiring money or using a cash app or gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Fraudsters may claim to accept credit cards, but may steal your credit card information to use it in other scams or inform you that payment didn’t go through and request the payment via wire service or gift cards.
- Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If a purebred dog is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, and then other payment is required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
- If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. In Canada, contact the Canadian Antifraud Centre.
- Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal's stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters, or refer to Humane Canada for information.