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Pet Buyers Targeted in International Scam, BBB Warns

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There may be tens of thousands of victims.

ARLINGTON, VA – The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting consumers.

The scam “may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed,” according to a BB press release. The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers of an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting consumers. 

In a new report, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” BBB says the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter them.

The report estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars each. The report recommends coordinated and aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education.

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“These cases can be devastating to families who are waiting for pets that will never come,” said Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “These are not just a few isolated cases of naïve consumers being taken. This is a highly organized, international scheme focused on one thing – stealing people’s money.”

The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region now serving as an international investigations specialist for an alliance of five local BBBs based in St. Louis, Omaha, Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas.

Most puppy scam victims are hooked into the scam by photos of cuddly terriers, miniature bulldogs or other puppies, BBB states. Other consumers believed they were paying for kittens, parrots or other animals to be delivered to their homes.

In the typical scam, thieves impersonate pet sellers and instruct potential buyers to make upfront payments for shipping, insurance and other fees.

In most cases, buyers never receive the pets, and they lose their money, according to BBB.

Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African nation of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.

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