Better Business Bureau says online puppy sale scams on the rise

Puppy Scam Warning issued by Better Business Bureau
WATCH: A consumer advocacy group is warning the public about a scam targeting people looking for pets. The Better Business Bureau is asking people to be aware of online fake ads, apparently trying to give away pets for free. But as Jill Bennett reports, there's always a catch.

When Stephanie Kilbreath decided to get a new dog, she checked out ads on Kijiji, and soon found found a Maltese for herself and two pit bull puppies she wanted to buy for a friend.

She reached out to the seller and talked to her via Skype, with the puppies in the background.

“I could see them on the webcam. I could see them barking and wagging their tails,” said Kilbreath.

But after making a deal with the woman to pay for the plane ticket to ship the dogs from Halifax, Kilbreath said things changed.

“When I talked to the woman yesterday she said they are in Edmonton and you need to send $1,700,” she said.

Kilbreath got suspicious and called the Edmonton Airport, only to learn there were no puppies being held there.

Story continues below advertisement

However, she had already wired some money for the dogs – and also sent a moneygram to the people she was told were behind the Maltese ad. In total, she lost approximately $800.

It’s the exact scam the Better Business Bureau is seeing more and more of. The Bureau has been getting about a call a week from people who have either lost money to a fraudulent online puppy sale or who have noticed red flags and stopped before wiring the funds.

“We can’t tell people not to buy animals from another part of the country, ” said Evan Kelly, Senior Communications Advisor with the Better Business Bureau. “But do your research. Make sure you have all of your basis covered.”

Kelly said a red flag is a sob story. If someone is selling an animal and saying it’s because a loved one just passed away and they can’t bear to look at the dog because it reminds them too much of the person, it’s a good idea to ask more questions.

Kilbreath said the woman “selling” the pit pull puppies told her it was because of a death in the family.

“She was saying, oh my daughter died and every time I look at them they remind me of her,” she said.

The increase in online scams comes at the same time the province is looking at bringing in new laws aimed at penalizing irresponsible breeders, after two major animal seizures in Langley and Surrey. There is also a call for a registry to protect both reputable breeders and the public.

Story continues below advertisement

Kelly said the BBB Scam Tracker website is also a good place to see what other scams people have encountered or to report a scam as a warning to others.

Kilbreath said she learned a valuable, but expensive lesson.