An introduction on scams and tips on protecting breeders and buyers!
by Monica DeBosscher, Esq. - Director of Partnerships, Community & Legal Affairs at Good Dog
The system for getting a new dog is broken. It is easier than ever to set up a fraudulent storefront online, creating ample opportunities for pet scams. Well-intentioned people, who just want to give a dog a good home, don't know who they can trust. We started Good Dog to change all that. Good Dog is on a mission to use technology as a force for good to make it simple for people to get dogs from responsible sources and provide all the support and guidance dog breeders and potential buyers need to feel confident every step of the way.
In a world full of scammers, Good Dog strives to ensure our breeders and buyers are protected. Good Dog offers our breeders and buyers protection from online scammers, including free legal support, and even works with members of the United States Secret Service to track online scams and catch scammers in the act and work toward putting an end to online fraud. Good Dog is launching a Weekly Scam Alert Series, where we will share new and current scams and highlight scams that are affecting the dog world and our breeder community so our breeders and buyers can protect themselves from opportunistic scammers.
And to further combat scammers, Good Dog is preparing to launch the first ever secure online payment system built specifically for breeders. We are so excited to launch this new product, because this new secure payment system will bring accountability to the dog world and the process of finding a dog online and help put an end to online pet scams, helping us accomplish our mission to make it simple and safe for people to get dogs from responsible sources.
Scammers are capitalizing on fears surrounding COVID-19, and it is important to be on high alert as scammers grow more sophisticated in their attempts to steal the public’s money and personal data.
As of mid-April, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had taken 18,235 reports of COVID-19-related scams of all types nationwide. The FTC issued guidance to avoid these coronavirus scams. The FTC recommends not responding to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government, being wary of ads for COVID-19 test kits (most of which have not been approved by the FDA), hanging up on robocalls, using caution when viewing emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO), and being careful before donating to any causes (and never donating in cash, via gift card or by wiring money). The Better Business Bureau has reported a significant increase in phone calls, text messages, and emails related to social security scams asking people to provide personal information in order to receive the economic impact payments from the U.S. Government. And ConEdison has received reports of scammers posing as utility representatives, threatening to shut service off in order to obtain a customer’s personal or financial information.
One popular scam related to COVID-19 that has popped up recently is referred to as the “Blessing Loom.” Through this scam, a direct message is sent via social media inviting someone to join a “Blessing Loom.” The direct message says that it is an opportunity to make money while also “blessing others,” which is appealing given that the pandemic has led to an uncertain economy and tight finances for many people. People are asked to make a small investment of approximately $100 paid through PayPal, Venmo, or other digital payment service, and promised that they will see a huge return on that investment if they recruit other people to invest. However, this “Blessing Loom” is actually a pyramid scheme that ends up with many participants losing the $100 they initially invested. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns to always be skeptical before participating in any offers via social media and to use caution whenever sending money through peer-to-peer payment services (like Venmo, PayPal or Zelle) that often do not shoulder the cost of fraud and scams.
Unfortunately, the dog community is not immune to this increase in scams. Now, more than ever, bad actors are preying on vulnerable people desperate to buy a dog, and dog breeders are being targeted by criminals seeking to steal their hard work, pictures, website content, and reputations in order to defraud the public. New data from the BBB Scam Tracker shows that pet scams have exploded since COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., with more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined. The BBB reports that uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, along with some quarantined families’ decisions to adopt a pet sight unseen, has created fertile ground for fraudsters, and experts believe that at least 80% of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. A 2017 report for the BBB on dog scams traced many of these scams to Cameroon, where scammers set up websites advertising dogs at low prices. Often the sites use dog pictures stolen from other sites and dog breeders, and sometimes copy entire websites from breeders and insert their own contact information. Scammers’ international home bases typically keep them protected from the reach of U.S. law enforcement and civil courts.
An example of such a pet scam recently reported to the BBB is a Mokena family that thought the coronavirus pandemic presented the perfect opportunity to train a puppy at home, so they found an Australian Shepherd online and made arrangements to buy the dog. The family said they were so desperate for a dog that they were “willing to almost play ignorant” when they thought they’d found one. When communicating with the online pet seller, the family noticed a few suspicious things, including the seller mislabeling female dogs as male, and that the seller claimed via email to be in Texas but said the dog could be picked up in Virginia. The seller also pressured the family to use a payment service that lacked the fraud protections of other payment options. The family sent money to the seller, but received no ownership paperwork, only a fraudulent certificate with a stamp from the “USA General Attorneys Pets Advocate,” a non-existent entity. The family demanded a refund, but the scammers stopped responding to all communications.
Nationwide, the BBB has received 371 complaints about similar dog scams in April, up from 118 during the same month last year. The BBB issued tips to the public to help them avoid such scams, including not buying a pet without seeing the pet in person and avoiding wiring money or using peer-to-peer payment services such as PayPal, Venmo, Facebook Pay or Zelle or gift cards, which often offer no recourse to get money back in the event of fraud. AARP offered similar advice, urging the public to be aware of common warning signs indicating a puppy scam, including that the asking price for a dog is far below the normal rate for that breed, the seller insists on shipping the dog and refuses to allow pickup of the dog in person, communications from the seller have poor spelling and grammar or the seller requires payment by money transfer (such as Western Union), gift card or prepaid debit card. AARP advised that credit cards are always a better method of payment because charges can be disputed in the event of a potentially fraudulent transaction.
Below we have highlighted three scams that have recently been brought to our attention so our breeders and buyers can recognize the warning signs of such scams and protect themselves.
We became aware of a phishing scam in which the recipients receive what resembles a Google Drive link that requires a password or code. You can see an example of this scam below. Please remember not to click on any suspicious links from people you don't trust and remember to reset your email account password if a scam like this is sent from what appears to be your email address!
We also recently helped one of our breeders who believed her buyer was the victim of a scam. The buyer received a paper invoice in the mail that said it was from the breeder, though the breeder had never sent such an invoice. The buyer immediately reached out to the breeder who confirmed she had not sent the invoice and that the buyer should not reach out to or pay the contact listed on the invoice. This demonstrates just how important clear lines of communication between breeders and buyers are! You can see an example of this mailed paper invoice scam below.
We also recently helped Jessica Sammons from Rocking LJ Breeding who had her website content stolen and used by a scam site to defraud the public. Jessica immediately contacted Good Dog to inform us of the situation, and also contacted local law enforcement and the FBI’s Cyber Division. Good Dog was able to have the scam site disabled and Jessica’s content removed.
Jessica offered some advice to other breeders about how she helps safeguard her breeding program and buyers against scams. First, Jessica requires that all puppy buyer applicants (whether they contact Jessica through Good Dog or elsewhere) fill out an application through Good Dog and make all deposits through Good Dog. Jessica believes this streamlined approach ensures that all potential puppy buyers know that they are doing business with Rocking LJ Breeding (and not a scam site impersonating the breeding program), and that potential buyers can feel confident when paying Rocking LJ Breeding through Good Dog because Good Dog offers a safe and secure payment platform and stands behind breeders and their buyers who use it. Jessica also recommended that breeders use whatever resources available to them, including free legal support available through Good Dog, if they believe they are a victim of a scam.
If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, you should report it to the BBB Scam Tracker and the Federal Trade Commission. You also can report it to petscams.com, which catalogs puppy scammers, tracks complaints and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down. And you can always reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for immediate assistance if you believe you have been scammed. For more information, you can also check out the recording of Good Dog’s Good Breeder Webinar on Defense Against Scams to learn how to protect yourself from online scammers, what steps you can take to hold scammers accountable in the event you are targeted, and about the free services Good Dog provides to help safeguard breeder’s reputations and intellectual property.