The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning Americans about an increase in pet scams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scammers are reportedly taking advantage of hopeful pet parents looking to adopt by taking money for animals that don’t exist or never arrive.
The BBB’s “scam tracker” has received 2,166 reports of pet scams over the past few months. This is more than triple the 700 scams reported during the same time period last year. Pet scams are now considered the riskiest scam by the BBB, with 70% of targets losing money.
Pet scams made up 24% of all scams reported to the BBB in 2020, compared to 17% last year. While pet scams often occur during the holidays, there has been an exceptional increase this year as people are willing to go through a pet adoption with as little in-person contact as possible.
Most victims who contacted the BBB about a pet scam said they were looking to adopt a pet because they were lonely during the pandemic. Many were told by scammers they needed money not only for the adoption, but for special climate controlled crates, insurance, and a COVID-19 vaccine (which was also fraudulent). There are several instances where victims wanted to visit or pick up their new pet in person, but were told it was not possible due to the pandemic.
Many people have been looking to adopt animals this year, which may be why the number of pet scams is so high. Shelters are selling out of animals, allowing scammers to be far more successful than usual. Additionally, numbers could be even higher than reported. Some victims may not wish to come forward about the scam, or lack information about where to report it.
In a 2017 study conducted by the BBB, experts found that at least 80% of sponsored advertisement links in internet search results are fraudulent. That number could be even higher now. The BBB advises those looking to adopt a pet to avoid wiring money, using a cash app, or using a gift card. Instead, reach out to a local shelter and don’t buy a pet without seeing it first. If you do end up falling victim to a pet scam, make sure to report it to the BBB’s scam tracker and the Federal Trade Commission.