Kerri McIntosh is a "dog person" who couldn't help but fall in love when she found a Doberman puppy for sale in a Facebook dog lover's group.
"The woman selling it said, 'This is the price, it includes shipping, and it is $1,300,'" McIntosh said.
That was actually a reasonable price for a purebred. But as soon as McIntosh sent the money using a digital payment app, the breeder needed more cash.
"She needed $750 for a crate," McIntosh said.
The seller then requested hundreds more for vaccinations, insurance and a permit to ship the dog.
McIntosh started to worry. But by that point, she had so much invested in the puppy that she kept spending. In the end, she says she sent the seller $4,800.
And as soon as she sent the last payment, the supposed breeder disappeared.
Scammers use Facebook, Craigslist, or slick websites
McIntosh had become the latest victim of a scam that also took $800 from Denise Alvarez, who was trying to buy a Havanese puppy from a breeder's website. She found the dog through Google.
The breeder had a website filled with photos and descriptions of dogs.
After sending $800 through a payment app on her phone, the seller stopped answering her texts and emails.
"My husband and I looked at each other and said, 'Christmas is going to be very slim this year,'" Alvarez said.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued an alert in October about puppy scams, saying it has received several thousand complaints nationwide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to avoid a puppy scam
The BBB says people can protect themselves by:
- Using a local breeder who can arrange an in-person meeting
- Searching a breeder for reviews and complaints
- Being suspicious of breeders on Craigslist or Facebook who don't have a street address and phone number
- Avoiding payment through untraceable means, including Zelle or Venmo
The BBB's Sara Kemerer says people can also ask out-of-town breeders to do a video chat with the puppy.
"Ask the seller to do a video call or a FaceTime, just to make sure that the breeder is real and that the pet is real," she said.
A scammer, typically using stolen photos of puppies they don't own, won't agree to the chat.
Kerri McIntosh and Denise Alvarez now want to warn other pet lovers.
"It's hard. I saved for almost a year to get that dog," McInstosh said.
The worst part, she says, was finding out that she would never meet the puppy she had fallen in love with online.
So be careful, and don't waste your money.
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