Puppy scams three times more likely in 2020


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says puppy scams are three times as likely this year than in 2019.

News 2 spoke with Robyn Householder, President/CEO of the BBB of Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, about why this specific scam is on the rise.

“The biggest reason for that is we are all home. We have more time on our hands to bring a puppy into the family, and we are looking for great opportunities to bring in that family member.”

Householder said because people are choosing to shop online amid the COVID-19 pandemic this scam is single-handedly perpetuated through social media or certain websites.

News 2 spoke with Zechariah Simerman, a military member in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who fell for the puppy scam.

“My wife and I were looking for a puppy. We already had one, and we decided she needed a friend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and my mom was looking for some places where we could buy one.”

That’s when they stumbled upon a website called ‘gorgeousbichonfrisepups.com’, which Simerman said looks legitimate. BBB officials told News 2 the website was created on August 30th of 2020. There was also a Petscam.com alert created for this website. BBB officials told News 2 the owner of the domain is using a private company called WhoisGuard, Inc. to mask the identity of who owns the site.

“She showed me this website. It seemed pretty legit. It ended up not being the best decision. I was reading through their history and stuff, they said it was a small family-owned business. They were selling a specific dog breed, ” he explained. “They were selling Bichons, and I have allergies. And they (Bichons) are hypo-allergenic, and that’s why I was so interested in them.”

Simerman told News 2 he began scrolling through the puppies and decided to adopt one named Ada. He began communicating with the breeders via email and eventually sent the breeder $900 dollars through Cash App.

“The only communication I had was through email, and I know a lot of the times when you are getting scammed you can notice quickly through grammar and how they talk – a lot of their emails are well written. They called me and told me I needed to get flight insurance on the puppy to get it shipped, and they said it was $1,600 dollars. I realized – I think I am getting scammed.”

Householder said grammar is one of the easiest ways to recognize a scam.

“Scammers are typically from overseas without a full grasp of the English language. It’s one of the easier ways to spot fraud. Pay attention to the email and spelling.”

Simerman said he received a lot of pictures of Ada via email but never got to meet the dog. Something Householder told News 2 is a big red flag.

“If you do choose to do business with the breeder online, then insist that you have an opportunity to meet the dog first. That in itself will eliminate a big, big part of these issues. The other thing is when you’re looking at these puppies take that image and do a reverse lookup.”

A reverse lookup will let you know how many other websites are using that identical picture. Householder said it’s common to find it in dozens of other spots online.

The price point may also be a sign of a scam.

“Chances are, the prices that you’re seeing for purebred animals online are nowhere near what a local breeder would charge you. So, you are getting scammed by just the price point. I think right now the average transaction loss per victim is about $700 dollars. It is a big ticket item,” Householder explained.

Simerman said he immediately cut off communication from the scammers and called his bank.

“In my mind, it was a small family-owned business. Cash App isn’t unheard of for small businesses to use. I didn’t realize that once you send that money through Cash App, it’s really out of your hands out of Cash App’s hands, and it’s basically a monetary transaction. You can’t really do anything with that money at that point.”

Once the transaction was pending in Simerman’s account, he filed a dispute and was able to get his funds back. He told News 2 being the victim of a scam can be an emotional experience.

“Immediately, it’s kind of humiliation. How did I fall for this type of thing? Humiliation quickly turns into frustration and then anger. I’m just trying to buy a dog, and these people are taking the money I worked for. Why don’t they go out and get a job?”

Householder said the moment you realize you’ve been the victim of a scam there are a few things you need to do.

“Notify your bank right away, let BBB know, report it to our Scam Tracker. That’s a great place to track any other bad acts, so we can help other consumers, and let your local police department as well.”

Simerman told News 2 that while he was able to get his money back, not everyone can afford to wait for those type of funds to return.

“Luckily, my wife and I are in a situation where $900 dollars wouldn’t stop us from making our payments. However, I can see someone splurging on a dog, just having enough money and they want to surprise their kids. But this would make a big difference in the money they have for the rest of the month.”

Householder’s tips for looking online to purchase an animal:

  • Check for the lockbox in the upper URL corner – it will tell you whether or not it’s a secure site
  • Always shop with your credit card – never a gift card
  • Put the breeders name into the search bar and type scam after it

Simerman said they were able to find another puppy through a reputable source.

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