International scam to sell puppies that don't exist

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The Better Business Bureau warned Wednesday that an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting consumers may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed.

In a new report, “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 this fraud.

The report estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to the scam, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars each to the thieves.

The report recommends coordinated and aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education to combat the scam.

“These cases can be devastating to families who are waiting for pets that will never come,” said Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). “These are not just a few isolated cases of naïve consumers being taken. This is a highly organized, international scheme focused on one thing – stealing people’s money.”

The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region now serving as an international investigations specialist for an alliance of five local BBBs based in St. Louis, Omaha, Chicago, San Francisco, and Dallas.

Most puppy scam victims are hooked into the scam by photos of cuddly terriers, miniature bulldogs, or other puppies. Other consumers believed they were paying for kittens, parrots or other animals to be delivered to their homes.

In the typical scam, thieves impersonate pet sellers and instruct potential buyers to make upfront payments for shipping, insurance and other fees associated with transporting the animals. In most cases, buyers never receive the pets, and lose their money.

Among the victims is a consumer from Collinsville, Illinois, who said he recently was duped by a scammer who took a $700 MoneyGram payment for a Weimaraner puppy. The consumer realized he had been scammed when the supposed seller asked for an additional $1,400 for insurance. The consumer said he never received the dog and never recovered his money.

A consumer from Oakland, California, said she lost nearly $1,000 — and could have lost much more — after agreeing to pay to have a teacup Yorkie shipped from Baltimore to her home. She contacted the FBI and BBB once she realized she had been scammed.

Similar stories have come from consumers across the United States and in numerous other countries.