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Puppy scams litter the internet

National Puppy Day, March 23, may not be a red-letter holiday on any of our calendars but millions of Americans seem to be in love with its subject.

The Better Business Bureau warns that if you have a case of puppy love and it was prompted by a picture seen in an online ad, beware: Odds are that puppy is fictional. Experts say up to 80% of sponsored online pet advertisements may be fake.

Scammers, often but not always from overseas, know how cute puppy pictures can tug on the heartstrings. For several years they have used photos taken from other online sources to lure animal lovers into sending them money. Once they have hooked a victim, the requests for more and more money continue.

How the scams work

A BBB investigation found that the scams usually come from Cameroon in West Africa. With the help of their fellow countrymen residing in the U.S., they collect their victims’ money. Fake online ads are placed offering the pets at deeply discounted prices. Shipping costs are requested and often a special shipping crate is also mentioned as a necessary purchase. Then comes charges for special insurance and shots for the animal.

If money continues to be sent, more requests follow. There may be a claim that the pet is stuck at an airport and money should be sent for care for them. Eventually the victim realizes they have been scammed and stops the process.

Embarrassment and humiliation at having been fooled keeps many from ever even reporting that they have been taken in. The FTC estimates that only 10% of those who fall for the scam ever notify authorities about their experience.

Avoiding scams

The best way to assure that you are not ripped off by a scammer is by following these general rules:

• Inspect an animal in person first.

• Only pay for an online purchase (if you must buy online) through using a credit card – never with a prepaid money card or by wiring money.

• Conduct an online search for the picture of the pet to see if it has been used elsewhere and taken from another site. This is called a reverse image search. Enter “how to do a reverse image search” in your favorite search engine to get the instructions. It’s a simple procedure. (This process has several uses for avoiding other types of fraud such as romance scams.)

• Consider adopting an animal through a rescue organization for the breed you are interested in. Don’t overlook the possibility of adopting an animal from your local shelter as well. Veterinarians recommend mixed-breed dogs because they are less prone to health issues that purebreds may have.

• Buy from local breeders whenever possible.

• Consider spelling and grammar mistakes in ads or in correspondence with potential sellers as a tip-off that they are probably foreign. • Do an online search by entering the seller’s name.

• Visit petscams.org for much more information about reported scams and ways to avoid them.

If you have been victimized by an online pet scammer, consider reporting your experience with these entities: BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us; Petscams.com, and the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.

Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the BBB at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.

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