As the holidays draw near, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado is warning that fraudulent pet sales are on the rise. The BBB reported one consumer complaint originated in the Colorado Springs area. Victims have lost up to $1,000, according to the BBB, which said at least 80 percent of sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.

“As more consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, more scams are popping up online,” a news release from the BBB said. “According to the American Humane Society, 62 percent of all U.S. households own a pet.”

BBB Scam Tracker has 907 reports on fraudulent pet sales, which represents 12.5 percent of all online purchase fraud reported, the release states.

“A Federal Trade Commission report found 37,000 complaints involving pets, of which the vast majority is believed to be puppy sale scams,” the BBB said. “FTC finds that less than 10 percent of victims of fraud actually complain, indicating that these numbers only hint at the size of the scheme.”

In a new report conducted by the BBB International Investigations Initiative, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter fraud.

Among the report’s key findings: 

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  • Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.
  • Many of the pets marketed online do not exist, or at least not as advertised.
  • The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
  • The thieves will continue asking for additional payments until the prospective buyer refuses further requests.
  • While victims can be of any age, reports show that those most susceptible to the scheme are in their late teens or early 20s.
  • Doing an internet search of the advertised picture may help identify fraudulent offers.

BBB offers the following tips to consumers looking to purchase a pet:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Visit the breeder.
  • Do an internet search of the picture of the pet. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it may indicate fraud.
  • Search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site. Reverse image searches can be done through Google.
  • Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • Always use a credit card in case of disputed charges.
  • Check references.
  • Research prices for the breed. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, it could indicated fraud.
  • Research pet adoption requirements in the area. Get a good grasp on what fees, permits and licenses are required by local government and know whether they should be collected by the seller or government.
  • The Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters. It also has tips for finding a reputable breeder.

 What if you have been a victim of a puppy scam?

  • File a report with BBB’s Scam Tracker.
  • File a complaint at Petscams.com.
  • Complain to the Federal Trade Commission. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
  • Homeland Security Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security also handles international fraud. Call 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada).
  • If money was sent through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak, contact those companies directly for information about the transactions. They also download their complaints into the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database, which police around the country can access.

Green Dot 800-795-7597
Western Union 1-800-448-1492
MoneyGram 1-800-926-9400