Look Out For Pet Scammers This Holiday Season

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If you plan on buying a pet around the holiday season, you run the risk of being scammed, or worse.

The Better Business Bureau fields more calls dealing with unscrupulous pet sellers around the end of the year than any other period. Particularly when buyers need to travel to meet an unknown seller, the organization warns that potential pet parents should beware offing taken advantage of.

As ABC Action News reports, a Denver couple was looking for a new puppy after once of their cherished French Bulldogs died. First attempting to buy a pug from someone in Austin, Texas, the Mary Lynn Grover tried to send the seller money using the Zelle app.

The seller wasn’t being honest, and didn’t even use the app. The Grovers had help from Wells Fargo getting their money back.

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The Better Business Bureau fields a lot of pet scam cases around the holidays.


Their next search brought them to Little Rock, Ark., where the Grovers found three puppies for sale. This time the seller seemed much more forthcoming with information and kindness.

Until they tried to meet him.

“He said, ‘Now you are part of my family. These were my mother’s puppies,’” Grover told ABC. “He even sent us a picture of the kennel he was buying for us and said, ‘I will make dinner.’ I mean he knew me as a soft spot. He said all the right things to me.”

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If you’re buying a pet online, you will want to meet the seller and the animal before handing over money.


On their way to Arkansas, the Grover’s got another phone call. The seller asked Mary Lynn to purchase a Walmart gift card as part of the deal. The request seemed fishy, so the Grovers kept driving.

“I texted him, saying ‘We’re coming.’ We got to the house; it’s dark,” she said.

Rather than the seller they expected, a man named Bill Todd, the Grovers were met by the true homeowner, another woman who was scammed by Todd in the same way.

“A woman answered and asked, ‘How did you get this number?’ I described what happened. She said, ‘he did the exact same thing to me, for $750,’ ” Grover said.

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Pet scammers will target people of any age, often pretending to be located a long distance away.


In Sacramento, Calif., a woman were selling a French Bulldog puppy on Craigslist for a family member, and after a conversation online, Jesselle Pablo met the potential buyer at her home. Rather than paying for the puppy, the man and his girlfriend took both the dog that was for sale and Pablo’s own dog, then drove off with the cash.

Pablo was dragged alongside the car as she tried to get her dog back. The man then drove his car into Pablo’s partner, leaving her with a head injury and a chipped tooth.

Police are still on the lookout for the suspects.

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Always use a method of payment with fraud protection when buying an animal online.

As the BBB reports, anyone can be taken advantage of in an online scam, but the most common targets are individuals in their late teens or 20s.

“The scheme is usually dependent on bogus, often sophisticated, advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers,” The consumer protection organization maintains. “Incredibly, experts believe at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In fact, it can be difficult to navigate an online search for a pet without coming across a bogus website.”

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Some pet sellers will even sell sick animals to unwary buyers.


A majority of pet scams will have the buyer believing their new animal is being shipped from far away, removing the option of meeting in person. Victims of these scams will be instructed to send money, often to a third party, who may also be involved in the supposed transportation of the pet. Once the money is sent, the scammer may even try to ask for more, blaming the raised rate on unexpected fees.

Then, they disappear.

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You may want to think twice before buying an animal online.

If you intend on buying a pet around the holidays, and don’t want to be scammed or outright robbed, Ezra Coopersmith, investigations coordinator at the Better Business Bureau, offers this advice:

  • Meet the seller and animal in person
  • Don’t pay for the animal until you’ve met
  • Use a payment method that is protected against fraud
  • File a report with the police and BBB if you have been scammed

“That’s the best way for the BBB or law enforcement to know what’s going on and to educate communities about how to avoid this type of scam,” Coopersmith said.

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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