Both offices have received complaints recently from citizens who have made down payments on animals they found on the internet — only to learn after paying multiple fees and never receiving animals that they were duped by fraudsters.
“These scammers know that increased numbers of people are shopping online during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Attorney General Hill said. “They’re banking on consumers’ willingness to arrange delivery of pets sight unseen — other than the cute pictures consumers may have seen on the internet.”
The scammers sometimes create websites made to look like they are operated by legitimate entities, either selling or adopting out pets. They may advertise the websites on social media or in email pitches.
The fraudulent ads often feature photos of puppies or kittens, said Dr. Marsh, who leads the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
“Most times the pet does not actually exist at all,” he said. “And scammers try to milk their victims for as much money as possible.”
After a pet is ordered and a payment is made for the pet and shipping charges, would-be buyers often learn that other fees are required — perhaps for vaccinations or other veterinary care. Fraudsters also concoct stories about additional shipping expenses — claiming, perhaps, that an animal has landed in another state, requiring some type of permit expense for the stop-over at an airport.
- Meet the pet in person if at all possible.
- Never pay any fee to obtain an animal that you have not seen with your own eyes (as opposed to via pictures or videos online).
- Don’t pay to ship a pet if you can’t verify the seller is a reputable breeder or rescue organization.
- Do your homework on the seller before sending any form of payment. Look for contact information, check credentials, and confirm reviews from previous clients.
- If you virtually chat with the seller, watch for odd phrasing or typos.
- If the seller asks you to pay via wire transfer or gift card, don’t. There’s a huge chance it’s a scam.
- If anyone asks you to send money overseas, particularly to pet adoption scam hotspots such as Cameroon or India, it is a scam.
- Beware of “free” pet offers online. These are often simply ruses to get you to pay shipping or other fees for non-existent animals.
The American Kennel Club is a good source of information for consumers looking for reputable, ethical breeders. Often your local veterinarian can be a resource for identifying reputable sources of pets, such as rescue groups.
Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a scam or targeted by scammers should file a complaint with the Office of Attorney General at indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-800-382-5516.