As pet rescue organizations are having luck clearing the shelters and finding homes for pets in need during the novel coronavirus, the Atlanta office of the Better Business Bureau warned it can be trickier to find a purebred pet or one from a breeder during this time.
"Just using the BBB scam tracker, I opened two investigations (Monday) morning on fake pet websites," said Callina. She said people are looking for ways to relieve their anxieties, so they're looking at working with pets. "But a lot of people are taking this opportunity to buy purebreds. And since... we're technically under a shelter-in-place for the most part, they're searching online. Well, the first thing the BBB is going to advice you is don't buy an animal online!"
She encourages anyone looking at a pet to go to the breeder, be with the animal and ask the breeder questions.
One problem, Callina said, is that phony websites are popping up. "In the state of Georgia, they're required to have a competency license from Georgia's Department of Agriculture," Callina said. One complaint they had received said the consumer paid for the pet and was then asked for more money. So Callina check the breeder's site through a search and found that while the breeder claimed to be long term, their website was only a month old and their were errors, like advertising Australian Sheppard dogs but calling the dogs Bulldogs throughout the site.
"What's happening is that these conartists are just copy and pasting from legitimate websites," she said. Websites using non-American spelling, such as British English, may also shoot up a red flag.
Callina urged anyone who spotted a website with mistakes, red flags or questionable practices to report it to the BBB.
Another problem is using quick cash apps, like PayPal or Venmo to pay for the animal.
"Don't send money any other way, if possible, unless it will put you into a lot of debt, through a credit card. These sites don't want to use credit cards, they want to use CashApp, Zelle, PayPal," Callina warned. "They was some type of untraceable payment, so once they get it, you can't ask for it back."
Beware of extremely low prices, such as a purebred advertised for $1,600 but the website claims the animal is really available for $600.
"Once you pay them and it's a non-traceable form of payment, what they'll do is keep in contact with you and say, 'hey, the puppy is on it's way,' and then all of a sudden you'll get a text or a call, sometime of communication from them that they got the puppy to the airport but because of insurance, shipping, whatever reason, you're going to need to pay another $900."
Unfortunately, Callina said that point is when people realized they've been scammed, and since they can't afford to pay any more, the company disappears.
And, Callina said if you think you're in trouble or if you already have been scammed, contact the BBB. Callina said they are working remotely during the pandemic, but all services are available.
And while man times the BBB can't change anything about the scam itself, the information provided can help keep criminals at bay.
Fortunately, Callina said they have not seen anything similar being reported at local animal shelters, just the good news that shelters are empty. "The (scams) we're seeing, are the fake pet websites... I haven't heard any bad things happening like that, hopefully - and I don't want to say "yet."
While the BBB has plenty of tips for varying problems like this one, Callina recommended the Humane Society of the United States and their resources for finding a breeder and other new pet tips. She also encouraged those interested in buying a pet to contact the BBB via email.
And, if you can wait, Callina strongly encouraged finding a local breeder after the pandemic. "Legitimate breeders, they still need our business, so if you see one advertised in the newspaper and it's somewhere you can physically drive, get out and see the puppies, then that's going to be a better chance of not being a scam than anything you can buy online, especially when it comes to pets.