In May of 2020, police received a report from a couple who believed they had lost money to a puppy fraud. After deciding to add a new dog to their family, they reportedly began an online search and responded to an ad that they believed belonged to a legitimate breeder. The couple was soon contacted by the seller to discuss the purchase of a puppy, as well as the cost of shipping. The couple reportedly agreed to the terms and sent an e-transfer to the seller. A day later, the seller allegedly reached out to request several hundred additional dollars for a travel crate and travel vaccinations, claiming they were required prior to shipping. The couple once again agreed to pay. The seller then reportedly reached out a third time to request several thousand additional dollars for pet travel insurance, which they claimed would be refunded when the puppy arrived. Becoming suspicious, the couple reportedly ended communication with the seller and contacted the EPS.
“Unfortunately, this is only one of many reports,” says Acting Detective Dana Gehring with the EPS Cyber Crimes Investigations Unit. “As more citizens add furry friends to their families during the pandemic, fraudsters have found a way to take advantage of them.”
Since October 2019, the Edmonton Police Service has received 17 complaints of online puppy fraud, with individual losses ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. In total, more than $40,000 has been defrauded from citizens over a 13-month period.
While each situation is unique, the frauds seem to follow a similar pattern and often begin with the victim conducting an online search that leads them to fraudulent websites/ads for breeders/suppliers. In most cases the purchase price is largely undervalued, and the fraudster will add additional costs like insurance, vet bills, shipping fees, quarantine housing fees, and more, claiming it must all be paid before the puppy can be sent. Payment is usually sent via e-transfer, though some fraudsters have also asked for payment through Western Union or Bitcoin.
As the holidays approach, investigators anticipate the fraudsters will be ready and waiting and are hopeful this warning will prevent more heartbreaking frauds from taking place.
“These fraudsters frequently try to use the emotion of the situation to their advantage,” says Acting Det. Gehring. “They may claim the puppy is waiting in an airport or shipping facility and will remain there until payment is received, which often tugs at the heartstrings of dog lovers.”
If you are planning to add a new fluffy friend to your home, the EPS advises doing plenty of research to ensure you’re getting a real pet from a trusted organization. When possible, seek out a local organization first. Edmonton has numerous legitimate organizations and registered charities/incorporated societies who have furry friends waiting for their furever homes. If you must search outside of the Edmonton area, keep the following tips in mind:
- Do your research.
- Research adoption fees and prices for the dog you are considering ahead of time.If the price seems too good to be true, it likely is.
- Ask for detailed information about the seller such as full name, phone number and mailing address. Search the seller’s name or phone number online along with the word “scam” or “complaint.”
- Try doing a reverse image search of the website or ad photos. If the same photos show up in older ads, on social media or on other websites, it is likely a scam.
- Ask questions. Responsible breeders and rescues like to discuss and educate you about the dog or breed. Ask anything you want to know, including breed traits, information about the parents, temperament, the dog’s history or health concerns, etc.
- Request proof. Ask for proof of health records/screenings and registration with any breed specific organizations (CKC), all of which you can confirm by calling the veterinarian and organization. This information will also be helpful when you bring your dog home.
- Meet in person. If possible, ask to meet the seller and the dog in person or, at minimum, meet them both via video call. If the seller declines, ask why.
- Avoid providing payment via e-transfer, Bitcoin or using a money transfer service. Scammers often use these forms of payment because they are like cash; once payment is sent it cannot be retrieved. Use a method of payment that has some form of fraud protection such as a credit card or PayPal.
- Be patient. If the seller seems anxious to complete the sale, get your deposit or pushes you to make a quick decision, be cautious. Likewise, don’t trust a seller if they claim they must sell the dog quickly, cannot take care of it or threaten harm to the animal. Responsible breeders and rescues seek out the best homes for their dogs and are typically not in a rush.
Have you lost money to online puppy fraud? Do you have information about an ongoing puppy fraud? Contact the EPS at 780-423-4567 or #311 from a mobile phone. Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.p3tips.com/250.