A Richmond, B.C., veterinarian is warning others after falling prey to a puppy scam.
“These are master manipulators. They are extremely intelligent and they know how to scam people,” Dr. Liza Lackner told Global News.
“These people prey on animal lovers and honest people, and I just need to get that word out.”
Lackner recently decided she would surprise her two boys with a new puppy for Christmas, and began looking for options online.
It wasn’t long before she found what appeared to be the perfect pup — a blue nose American Pit Bull Terrier — from an online classified website.
The man she contacted seemed legitimate. He asked her the right questions, had many photos of the dog and had all the right answers to her concerns, she said.
What’s more, he had a compelling story for needing to rehome the puppy: his wife was seriously ill and they could no longer afford a pet.
“Of course, that pulled at my heartstrings,” Lackner said.
The pair arranged a deal, which included her sending a $500 e-transfer.
From there, everything continued to look legitimate. Lackner said she was even provided with legitimate-looking shipping information, including a tracking number that worked on the shipper’s website.
But at the last minute, she got a message that there was a problem. The crate the puppy was to be shipped in didn’t meet the shipping company’s standards, she was told.
The seller needed another $1,500 — in pre-paid Visa gift cards.
“Right then and there, I was like … my heart sank,” she said.
Lackner’s story is far from unique, especially amid COVID-19.
The Better Business Bureau says scammers were quick to capitalize on the trend of people adopting so-called “pandemic pets.”
“We’ve received thousands of reports from across Canada about puppy scams,” said BBB spokesperson Karla Laird.
“The reports are in the millions in terms of losses.”
Laird said scammers have become increasingly sophisticated in their traps as well, using legitimate-looking websites, providing a wealth of photos or videos of animals, and finding new methods of payment.
Bringing shipping companies, crate issues and even COVID-19 vaccines into the mix have become common techniques, she said.
“It’s unfortunately extremely successful in capturing victims,” she said.
Laird said there are many red flags would-be pet owners can look out for.
She said potential buyers should look carefully at any correspondence with the seller. Bad grammar and unusual or coloured fonts are a warning sign, she said.
Sellers who will only talk by text message or direct message over an app are also a potential concern.
The safest way to verify a seller is real is by connecting with them via video chat, according to Laird.
Laird also recommends buyers run any photos the seller provides through a reverse image search on the web. If the picture pops up in many other ads or on other sites, it’s potentially a fraud.
And buyers should also be wary of payment issues. E-transfers, wire transfers or gift cards are always suspicious. Added fees, such as crates or vaccines, should also raise red flags, she said.
Consumers are also urged to deal with a reputable breeder, or adopt a rescue animal from the BC SPCA.
As for Lacker, she said she won’t be fooled again — and is hoping by speaking out she can save another would-be pet owner the same trouble.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I felt deceived.”
– With files from Catherine Urquhart