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‘I really just fell for it’ - Cleveland BBB says online pet scams are on the rise

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 7:05 PM EST
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NORTH CANTON, Ohio (WOIO) - It’s the most amazing feeling, waking up Christmas morning to find a puppy underneath your tree, but our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad have a warning for consumers in the market for a new pet this holiday season.

The Cleveland Better Business Bureau told 19 News online pet scams are on the rise, with thousands of people getting ripped off without ever even getting a puppy, including one woman from North Canton.

“I really just fell for it, you know, and I should have known better, you know, I’m 63 years old,” said Teresa Depue. “I should have known better, but you know that little puppy, it was the cutest little puppy in the world.”

Teresa Depue’s beloved dachshund passed away a year ago, so as a Christmas present to herself and to her husband, she wanted to buy a new puppy. When she was scrolling through Facebook, she found an ad for dachshund puppies. She messaged the breeder, and before long, he messaged back. He said the dog cost $850 and was in Kentucky.

“He goes well, here’s my name, here’s my address, and everything in Kentucky, and we looked it up, and it was an actual road in Kentucky,” Depue said.

Then he asked for a $300 deposit. She made several attempts to send the money to multiple different emails sent by the scammer. PayPal flagged those transactions so the money wouldn’t go through; she reluctantly sent him the $300 through Zelle. The north canton woman planned on driving to Kentucky to pick up the puppy in a few days.

“Turns around he says, oh, so the next step is you need to send me another $400 to transfer the puppy into your name,” recalled Depue. “So, I questioned him about that, and I said, ‘Well, why didn’t you tell me this before?’ He says, ‘Why I thought you knew that already and I said, ‘That never came up in our conversation for the 12 hours that we had a conversation’, and he goes, ‘Well, that’s a that’s a law in Kentucky that you have to do it this way.’”

Depue told the breeder the only way she’d pay him the additional $400 is through PayPal goods and services.

“After that conversation, I never heard from him again,” said Depue. “It was just total silence. In fact, my emails didn’t even go through anymore. So, he got my $300, but at least he didn’t get any more from me.”

Ericka Dilworth with the Cleveland BBB says it’s a scam that’s becoming more and more common, especially during the holidays,

“People they get desperate, or they’re looking for a specific kind of a dog, and they can’t seem to find it anywhere but online and, and so they you know, they’ll do whatever needs to happen to you know, get the dog by Christmas,” Dilworth explained.

According to the BBB, in 2017, they saw 884 of these pet scams. In 2018 that number climbed to 1,578. In 2019 it went up slightly to 1,870, but in 2020 it shot up to 4.300 scams. Dilworth says while pet-related scam reports are down slightly this year from 2020, they still expect the total number to be double what it was in 2019. Dilworth says the best advice she can offer, don’t buy a pet online, make sure you see the pet in person before paying for it.

“Sometimes if it’s a low price, that certainly can be a red flag too because, you know, certainly if dogs usually sell for $1,200, and someone’s looking at it for $600, then that should be something that you should be concerned about,” Dilworth said.

Dilworth says there are things you can do to make purchasing a pet online safer.

“Well, I think the first thing that they need to do is do a reverse image search, just to make sure that the puppy that the person is trying to sell is it is not a puppy picture that you’ll see everywhere, and that’s easy enough for you to do just to make sure,” said Dilworth.

Depue did end up getting another puppy from a reputable breeder.

“I was looking forward to telling my dogs are going to get a new little brother and you know, everything and, and then it was just gone,” Depue said. “So, like I say, it took me it took me a while to get over my other one. So, this was, this was hard.”

The BBB says if you do buy a pet online, use a credit card; that way, you do have some recourse if you are scammed and if you think you may have been a victim, report it to the BBB scam tracker.

According to the BBB, on average, consumers who fall for these pet scams lose over $1,000.

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