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Too good to be true? Watch out for this common pet adoption scam

Pet adoption scams heat up during the holidays. Here are some signs to watch for to avoid becoming a victim and having your heart broken.

Looking to add a furry, four-legged friend to the family this holiday season? The Better Business Bureau is warning about quarantine puppy scams in which the fraudsters take advantage of a potential target's big heart and the COVID-19 pandemic to take their money.

The BBB said pet scams have made up 35% of scam reports in 2021. That's down from 2020, but the total this year is still expected to be double that of 2019 and four times as much as 2017.

The holidays tend to be a hot time for pet scammers to tug on heart strings with cute photos online of pets in holiday clothing and hats, BBB said. But then the scammer will use COVID-19 precautions as an excuse to not let the potential buyer see the pet in person prior to sending money.

"The scammer claims that they must use a pet delivery agency of some kind, often an airline," BBB said in a statement. "The scammer also may demand fees for vaccinations or other last-minute 'needs."

The scammers request payments through untraceable cash apps. The most popular for this is Zelle, BBB said. But fraudsters will also use Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo and Apple Pay.

In the end, BBB said, the pet never exists and the victim loses money and is left with broken heart.

BBB has these tips for avoiding pet scam fraud.

  • Make sure to see the pet first. If the seller is claiming COVID-19 concerns, set up a video call in order to see both the seller and the pet together to ensure the animal exists.
  • Do a reverse image search using such online tools as Google Images to see if the online photo of the pet has been used for other things.
  • Compare prices. If the dog is claimed to be a purebred, make sure the price being asked is comparable to ads for similar dogs. A significantly lower price may be the sign of a scam.
  • Consider adopting from a pet shelter where you can meet the animal in person and do a face-to-face transaction.

The BBB said pet scam victims can report cases to Petscams.com, which works to remove false pet sales. The BBB also has a Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission will take scam reports.

Additionally, victims are urged to contact their credit card company, even if the sale was not completed, if they gave out their card information.

The average financial loss per scam is $1,088, BBB said. More than 8 in 10 scams involve dogs. People from 25 to 35 years old tend to be those most victimized.