Puppy scams increasingly hitting the Bay Area

Consumers looking to buy cuddly terriers, cute miniature bulldogs, kittens, even parrots are being scammed by thieves who ask for money up front but then never deliver the pet.

In fact, the report says anyone searching for a pet online is likely to come across the scam. 

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. 

“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. “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.”

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 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 said she lost nearly $1,000 after agreeing to pay to have a teacup Yorkie shipped from Baltimore to her home. She contacted the FBI and the Better Business Bureau once she realized she had been scammed.

Among the report’s key findings:

*Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.

*At least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.

*The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.