BBB Warning: Puppy Scam Reports Skyrocket During COVID-19 Pandemic


Some families have turned to the internet to look for a pet, thinking a pandemic puppy or kitten would help ease some of the uncertainty of current events. Many have come across scammers advertising animals that don’t exist and are never shipped. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has given scammers the idea to ask for money up front, or to make excuses as to why buyers can’t see the pet in person– before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned. This practice has also lead to a jump in online shopping fraud in general. BBB suggests, be aware of these pet scams and avoid falling for phony websites.

According to BBB’s Scam Tracker, pet scams in July caused losses in Massachusetts totaling over $8,000, almost $4,000 in Maine, and just shy of $1,000 in both Rhode Island and Vermont. 

Nationwide, BBB received 1,681 reports of pet scams in the past few months, up from 583 for the same period last year – almost triple the number reported last year. Overall, pet scams comprise 25% of online scams reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker. During the same period last year, it was 18%. The typical dollar amount lost to pet scams also rose from $655 last year to $700 this year, one of the highest for all categories. The percentage of people who reported losing money inched up from 68% last year to 70% this year.

  • The biggest increase in online shopping fraud is pet scams, more than triple compared to previous years.
  • Pet scams now comprise 25% of online scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker (up from 18% in 2019).
  • Pet scams are now the riskiest scam, according to the BBB Risk Index.
  • Of those targeted for a pet scam, 70% end up losing money.
  • The typical dollar amount lost to a pet scam is $700, one of the highest for all categories of scams.
  • Pet scams are not only the riskiest scams, they are also one of the most heart-breaking.

These increases truly make sense when pet adoptions and pet-related purchases are booming during the pandemic as well. Legitimate online pet supply retailer Chewy (a BBB Accredited Business) is seeing record revenues. Animal shelters across North America are seeing their animals being adopted out and fostered at record rates. Some shelters even have waiting lists – something unheard of not long ago.

Puppy scams like these were the subject of a 2017 in-depth investigative study by Better Business Bureau (BBB), and they are prolific during the holidays

Many victims who contacted BBB’s Scam Tracker reported they wanted to adopt a puppy in order to ease their isolation and brighten their lives during the pandemic.

Victims were often told that they needed to send money for special climate-controlled crates, insurance and a (non-existent) COVID-19 vaccine. There also were several instances where the consumers wanted to see or pick-up the animal but were told that wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.

One victim from Maine lost nearly $4,000 last month. She explained that she bought the puppy online and then was told that the puppy’s flight was on hold because “a temperature regulated crate is required” and was asked to pay an additional fee. Then, they asked her for an insurance deposit. She never received the puppy and instead lost thousands of dollars. 

Tips for avoiding puppy scams:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, its likely is a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another website.
  • Avoid wiring money, or using a cash app or gift card. These payment methods offer no recourse and no way to get your money back if you are the victim of a fraud. Fraudsters may claim to accept credit cards, but may steal your credit card information to use it in other scams or inform you that payment didn’t go through and request the payment via wire service or gift cards.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If a purebred dog is advertised for free or at a deeply discounted price, and then other payment is required for services like vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.
  • Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal’s stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters.
  • If you think you have been scammed or have found a suspicious website, report it to BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. In Canada, contact the Canadian Antifraud Centre
  • Consider reaching out to a local animal shelter. Many shelters are looking for fosters to help relieve the animal’s stress and reduce overcrowding at their facilities. Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters, or refer to Humane Canada for information.
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