Fake pet and puppy scams are on the rise, and BBB cautions consumers to use caution when shopping online for a pet this holiday season. By playing on emotions, a common tactic used by scammers, consumers are met with a slew of heart-tugging online ads. A recent BBB investigative study, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers” found that many of the ads are scams, so those looking online for a pet is extremely likely to encounter a scam when shopping for a pet online.

In the last three years, BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets. The FTC estimates only about 10% of victims report these crimes, meaning that the problem is likely more widespread.

BBB’s investigative study looked at the scope of this problem, those behind it, and the need for heightened enforcement and consumer education needed to address the issue. The study notes that in approximately 60% of consumers reported never receiving the pets they purchased. Consumers also reported receiving animals with health and/or genetic problems and not receiving proper documentation for the pet.

More than 5,000 complaints and scam reports were registered about sellers of dogs, kittens, birds, reptiles and other pets.

You find an adorable pet on a website or an online ad. Scammers often claim they are breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved dog. Once you inquire about the pet, the seller asks you to wire money or use a prepaid card or gift card to complete the purchase.

The “seller” then promises your pet will be shipped right away. However, scammers use a variety of excuses, all which require the purchaser to pay money in advance. The scammer promises they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered. However, in many cases, the pet is never delivered and neither is the refund.

“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President, and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, but victiims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet.” Tips to Protect Yourself from Pet Scams:

Arrange to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit.

Never send money using unconventional payment methods. Whether it’s via wiring, prepaid debit cards, or gift cards, Once the money is sent, it is gone for good. Your best bet is to use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. Petscams.com has also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system.

Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.

Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.

Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and do an internet search on the breeder’s or organization’s name.

If you have been a victim or see a puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

For more advice on staying safe this holiday season or to share your experience with a business, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call BBB at (903) 581-5704 or report it via BBB Scam Tracker.

About BBB: BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Most BBB services to consumers are free of charge. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.3 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution services, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit bbb.org for more information. There are over 100 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central East Texas, which was founded in 1985 and serves 19 counties