LEHIGH ACRES – Puppy scams are on the rise and Florida is a hotbed for the doggie deception.
According to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker, there have been 475 puppy scams across the country since 2015, 218 of them were reported since February of this year.
“I love dogs but I’ve never owned a dog myself,” said Carla Rosier.
After months of research, she decided to contact a website about purchasing a maltese puppy. Shortly after reaching out, she said there were red flags.
“[the website asked for] money order, yeah. I dont ‘pay anything in money order,” she said. “So I messaged back and said I don’t want to pay by money order can I pay in any other way? And they said, ‘our system is down.’ ”
Rosier said another red flag: the information on the website did not match who she was talking to over the phone.
“When I called it sounded like someone from another country.”
Rosier ended up never talking to the people associated with that website again, so she never lost any money.
But back in February, a WINK News investigation uncovered someone who was not as lucky.
Jaime Beauseigneur and her boyfriend Ray ended up sending $1500 to people they thought would send them an English Bulldog. That dog didn’t exist and they lost their money.
BBB on Puppy Scams
“The best scam is a scam that plays on your emotions and what better plays on your emotion than cute little puppies,” said Bryan Ogelsby with the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB just released a study into the nationwide scheme, noting that the thieves appear to be operating out of West Africa.
In May, police in western Pennsylvania picked up two Cameroonian men attending school in that area there. They were charged with operating an international pet scheme.
“Over 80 percent of online sponsored ads, when you go online looking for a pet, are potentially fraudulent advertisements,” Ogelsby said.
Protecting your Money
Catching the crooks behind this scheme is rare, so you need to be smart.
“Legitimate companies or breeders are going to be very transparent,” explained Ogelsby. “They’re going to encourage you to come and visit the pet. They’re going to ask you questions.”
The BBB suggests you meet the breeder and dog you want to purchase in person. You can check with the American Kennel Club to see if the breeder is registered and never wire money to someone you’ve never met. If you are researching online sites, take some of the pictures they are showing and do a Google image search.
“These scammers can spoof anything from brand company names to pictures of puppies on legitimate breeders’ websites,” said Ogelsby. “So the first thing you want to do if you see a cute picture, click on that image and do a reverse search on google search. See how many times that image is coming up and how many websites and again that’s a red flag that this could be a scam-oriented website”
Reporting a Scam
If you fall victim to a scam like this or want to a report a website that seems illegal or fake, you can file a complaint with the BBB or the Federal Trade Commission.