When West Kelowna resident Chrissy Rombs and her family decided they wanted a pet last spring, they realized that finding an animal wasn’t easy.
“When we were first looking for a puppy, everybody was looking for a puppy,” Rombs told Global News. “Everybody was looking for a small dog, a big dog, it didn’t matter. The SPCA was out, we couldn’t even adopt.”
Pet adoptions and sales went up dramatically as many people, locked up in their homes, sought the comfort of pets.
So Rombs decided to turn to the digital world to find one.
“We saw this woman on Facebook and she said she was a breeder and so she had a bunch of puppies,” Rombs said.
After several messages, Rombs transferred a $250 deposit to the woman, and was assured that the puppy was hers.
“She sent us multiple photos, videos. She even had a name, her name was Shelby,” Rombs said.
A few days later, her and her three children drove to Merritt to get their new dog. But when they arrived, they realized they had been scammed.
“Nobody answered the door and there were no dogs barking,” she said. “There were no puppies.”
Fortunately for Rombs in this case, the woman was unable to accept the $250 deposit, so the family didn’t lose money.
“It was a good, teachable moment for my children to realize that not everybody is who they say they are online,” she said.
“So as much as it was disappointing that we didn’t get a puppy, we were thankful that we didn’t lose any money and it was just a car ride to Merritt.”
Pet scams were in fact one of the top scams in 2020 and quite prevalent in the Okanagan.
“The reports came to us from places like Kelowna, West Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton,” said Karla Laird, the Better Business Bureau’s community and public relations manager for B.C.
This week, the BBB released its “2020 Top Scams” list and said many of the scams were fueled by the pandemic.
“For sure, COVID-19 and the pandemic and everything that has come with living in a pandemic world over the last year has played a significant role,” Laird said.
Laird said financial hardship and job losses pushed the advance fee loan scam to the top of the list. That’s where a scammer will ask the would-be-borrower to pay an online fee before getting the loan, something Laird said is an immediate red flag.
“So essentially paying money to get money,” Laird said. “Many people fell victim to that scam because they don’t know that practise is illegal in Canada.”
Online purchase scams including pet scams were number two on the list followed by home improvement scams.
With so many people using the lockdown to improve their homes, scammers used the opportunity to collect deposit money upfront for services that were never delivered or never finished.
One scam that was extremely common pre-COVID actually disappeared off the list.
“The travel scam was actually No. 1 in 2019. But by the end of March, travel was literally cut right off and it fell off the top 10 list completely,” said Laird.
As online scams spiked, so too did the number of people who lost money.
In fact, the BBB said the percentage of consumers who lost money was at an all-time high, with nearly one in two reports noting financial loss.
“That shows us that the susceptibility rate, or the chance of somebody being victimized when exposed to a scam, is extremely high and we’ve never seen it this high before,” Laird said. “That means that the scams are extremely sophisticated.”
The BBB is urging the public to take time and do research before purchasing anything online.
“When we think about the pandemic, everything sounds or points to us being online more. And so that means guarding your information when you’re online, think about who you’re sharing that information with, think about who is at the other end of that transaction,” Laird said.
Click here for a full report on the 2020 Top Scam List as well as for more information on how to protect yourself.