Scammers know you want a puppy for the pandemic: Here's how to avoid them | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Scammers know you want a puppy for the pandemic: Here's how to avoid them

Image Credit: Shutterstock
December 19, 2020 - 6:00 PM

The year 2020 was a time of financial hardship for many, but there's one group of people coming out on top — scammers.

The COVID-19 pandemic created the perfect situation for fraudsters — restrictions kept people stuck at home, forced to move their social life, work and shopping online. 

And plenty of people want company with so much time on their hands. The solution? Buy a pet, like a puppy.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that from January to September 2020, Canadians lost $323,951 to pet scams. That's just shy of triple last year's total of $135,640, and there's still three months missing from this year's report.

Fortunately, some scams are easy to spot fairly early on. 

Kamloops resident Mike Loewen and his fiancé Sadie were looking for a pug when they found what initially appeared to be a legitimate seller.

"The website was very well put together, saying that he was a local breeder based out of Ontario and all his pugs are registered," Loewen said. "It was fishy how fast he was willing to let us have a pug without seeing photos of home or asking many questions about us."

When the couple didn't send payment right away, the seller quickly got frustrated with them. 

"We went to look at the website again and it was completely gone," he said.

Their experience highlights two common scammer qualities — they don't ask you many questions (if any), and they get pushy when you don't pay right away.

Although these are both common qualities identified by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, I wanted to contact some puppy scammers and test it out for myself.

The seller's first priority was payment, before I had even selected a puppy or answered any personal questions.
The seller's first priority was payment, before I had even selected a puppy or answered any personal questions.

One page I contacted through Facebook advertising puppies from California started by asking me to pick a puppy from the photos they sent. They did not ask me about my living situation, income, or lifestyle — and neither did the six other scammers I managed to contact on Facebook.

This particular scammer wanted me to provide them with some personal information so they could create a pet ownership contract and email it to me. They said they would ship the puppy by air, but wouldn't tell me which company, unless I paid them first.

When I didn't answer their messages right away, they got pushy, insistent. They made me feel like I was going to lose the puppy if I didn't act fast, a classic scammer tactic.

Scammers are known to put pressure on potential victims, rushing them to complete the steps of the transaction.
Scammers are known to put pressure on potential victims, rushing them to complete the steps of the transaction.

Every puppy sale page I contacted on Facebook was less than a month old. I discovered that the likely reason behind this is that they delete their page every time they have successfully scammed someone, or when their potential victim asks too many questions. 

I was of the latter group, as I asked every person I contacted to provide me with proof of the puppy's health. In each case, they could not provide me with more than one photo of the dog, and only one could provide video, while others dodged the question.

This was the end of a conversation with a page selling Schitzu puppies from California. It was deleted within hours of their last reply.
This was the end of a conversation with a page selling Schitzu puppies from California. It was deleted within hours of their last reply.

One trick to determine whether a photo is legitimate is to reverse Google search the image. If you find it posted on multiple other sites, there's a good chance it was stolen.

The scammers I spoke with were pretty obviously fake — they provided conflicting information, dodged questions, and hassled me. One scammer even offered to drive to Toronto to give me the puppy in person from Oklahoma, despite the fact it's a 40-hour drive total, and the border is closed due to COVID-19. 

However, not all ads are as easily identifiable as fraudulent. 

As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. The seller wants to make everything sound easy, but if you start asking questions and doing a little digging, everything falls apart.
As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. The seller wants to make everything sound easy, but if you start asking questions and doing a little digging, everything falls apart.

So, to find out what to expect from legitimate puppy sellers, I spoke with Kamloops family farm owner Schaana Puetz.

Her Labrador and Standard Poodle have had three litters, one each year, and the puppies have been sold through Facebook or Kijiji.

Puetz's priority is making sure her puppies go to a good home, so her vetting process is thorough.

"I have phone calls and video chats, and emails with these people," she said.

She combs through their social media to ensure the puppies will be in a suitable home. 

"I kind of see what their life is like, for example if they had a new puppy last year, I'm curious," she said.

"I'll ask them more questions about what I see on their socials."

While some may find this process excessive, Puetz and other legitimate sellers know the scamming can go both ways. 

“I have never had anything weird happen until this year," she said. “I had somebody try to buy my whole litter, sight unseen, at six weeks old.”

The person didn't want the puppies to go to the vet for shots, and wanted all six immediately. Puetz suspects they would have flipped the litter for double the price.

“I also had somebody try to buy a puppy for about ten times what it was worth and have me give them cash back," she said. “This is the very first time I’ve had such strange stuff come out of the woodwork.”

In previous years, Puetz sold her puppies for $700 each. This year she hesitantly doubled the price. 

"I’ve always had a challenge selling them for $700, it was always a thing where at eight weeks, I might still have a puppy that didn’t have a home," she said. "This year, I got over 150 responses in one day for my six puppies."

Without vetting the candidates, she could have sold the whole litter in one day, and likely could've asked for a higher price, she said.

"Because there’s that demand, there’s people willing to take advantage,” she said.

Her advice to anyone looking to buy a puppy online: do your due diligence. 

"Make sure that you see these people for who they are, make sure that you can go on their Facebook page and see where these puppies are living," she said.

"Ask all the questions that are going to make you comfortable and if you can, go see where your puppy is."

If the seller is dodging questions and not providing much information, she urges people not to buy their puppy, especially if they're asking for money before you can see it. 

She recommends asking for photos, live video, and being firm about what you want to know.

"Be a little bit demanding," she said. "If that means that person turns their nose up and you don’t get that puppy, that means it probably wasn’t a good spot anyway."

If you have been a victim of fraud, collect all the information you have on the seller, including the dates and records of interactions. Submit a report to your local RCMP detachment, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by clicking here.

For more tips on spotting a scammer of any kind, click here.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Brie Welton or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

We welcome your comments and opinions on our stories but play nice. We won't censor or delete comments unless they contain off-topic statements or links, unnecessary vulgarity, false facts, spam or obviously fake profiles. If you have any concerns about what you see in comments, email the editor in the link above. 

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