Northeast Ohio residents looking for comfort during uncertain times are losing thousands of dollars in ‘pet scams’

Ijane Janel thought she and her husband were headed to pick up a puppy named Oliver a few weeks...
Ijane Janel thought she and her husband were headed to pick up a puppy named Oliver a few weeks ago.(Ijane Janel)
Updated: Dec. 16, 2020 at 10:27 AM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - People are losing an astounding amount of money looking for a companion in this trying time.

Experts say scammers are advertising animals that don’t exist, and the pandemic has given them excuses to use for why buyers can’t meet the pets in person.

Ijane Janel thought she and her husband were headed to pick up a puppy named Oliver a few weeks ago.

“Everything seemed legit,” she said. “It was all set up. They had the forms on the puppy and his shots and healthcare. We fell in love with the puppy before we even got him.”

Forty-five minutes into their drive though, the supposed seller said not to come.

He wasn’t doing pick-ups because of COVID-19 and told them he’d ship the pup for a price.

“The puppy stole my heart.,” she said.

And his alleged owner, stole her money-- never responding after the couple sent the funds through an app.

“We did lose a lot of money,” she said.

The Better Business Bureau says pet scams have skyrocketed recently as people search for something to ease the uncertainty of current events.

“Training that puppy and caring for and loving that puppy would have been comfort that I don’t have,” Janel said.

BBB’s Scam Tracker received 2,166 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 700 for the same period last year. That’s more than triple the number reported last year.

Multiple people right here in Northeast Ohio recently reported losses upwards of a thousand dollars.

Sheryla Harris with the Cuyahoga County Sqam Squad says, “They are getting a lot more savvy about how they reach out to you."

Harris says once victims are hooked, the scams can spiral out of control.

“The more you pay, the more reasons there are that you have to pay,” she said.

According to the BBB pet scams are not only the riskiest scams, but they also tend to be one of the most heartbreaking.

So here are five things you can do to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, its likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Avoid wiring money, or using a cash app or gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Fraudsters may claim to accept credit cards, but may steal your credit card information to use it in other scams or inform you that payment didn’t go through and request the payment via wire service or gift cards.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If a purebred dog is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, and then other payment is required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
  • If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. In Canada, contact the Canadian Antifraud Centre.
  • Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal’s stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters, or refer to Humane Canada for information.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of a pet scam, you are encouraged to report it to the BBB and the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad.

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