Purchasing a puppy? Calgary sees spike in fake online dog sales in 2020

Puppy scams where buyers provided payment but did not receive their pet. Getty Images

While the holidays may seem like the perfect time to introduce a four-legged friend to your home, police are warning Calgarians there’s been an increase in puppy scams this year.

In 2019, police said there were 10 reports of puppy scams with an estimated loss of $6,100.

This year, there have already been 33 reports of fraudulent online dog sales in which payment was provided but buyers didn’t get their pet, with an estimated loss of over $30,000.

According to police, the biggest spike in reports was in October and November this year, with eight and seven reports respectively.

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“As we find ourselves in the holiday season and in the middle of a global pandemic, we know that pets can be a great source of companionship, especially for those living alone,” Const. Kris Anton said in a news release.

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“Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who prey on people’s emotions and generosity this time of year.”

Police said the most common scenario they are seeing is one in which buyers find a seller online, pay for the cost of the pet in full — or put down a deposit upfront — but never receive the animal.

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Some scenarios promise the dog will be delivered to an agreed-upon location, but the seller never shows up, police warn. Or, sometimes scammers contact the buyer claiming more funds are needed to transport the dog. However, once the buyer becomes suspicious, the seller stops communication.

How to spot a possible pet scam

According to the Calgary police, warning signs of a possible pet scam include:

  • Asking for payment upfront and using payment methods like Bitcoin or wire money transfers
  • Requesting additional payment multiple times to cover things like travel, insurance, pet crates etc.
  • Communication from the seller becoming less and less frequent once they receive payment.

Tips to help you prevent falling victim to a pet scam

Unfortunately, Calgary police say recourse for victims of pet scams can be difficult, especially if the fraudster isn’t local.

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It’s with that in mind that police ask those hoping to purchase a pup to:

  • Research local organizations. Consider using local, trusted organizations that you can contact with questions beforehand. Ask about the price of adopting a pet and if there are known medical costs. If the price seems too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Ask questions. Legitimate breeders and adoption agencies will work with you to offer information about the breed of dog. Ask about breed traits, information about the parents, temperament, the dog’s history or health concerns.
  • Request proof. Ask for proof of health records/screenings and registration with any breed-specific organizations, all of which you can confirm by calling the veterinarian or organization.
  • Meet in person. If possible, ask to meet the seller and the dog in person or, at a minimum, meet them both via video call. If the seller declines, ask why.
  • Avoid providing payment upfront. Scammers often ask for money upfront and usually in the forms of wire money transfers, Bitcoin or e-transfers. 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.
  • Be patient. If the seller pushes you to make a quick decision, be cautious. 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.

To report a potential or suspected pet scam you can call the Calgary Police Service’s non-emergency number at 403-266-1234.

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Victims can also report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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