By Marissa Parra

CHICAGO (CBS)– More and more people have been adopting pets amid the pandemic – and with this demand for pets, there has also been an increase in pet scams this year.

The Better Business Bureau reported a spike in pet fraud reports, with more than 4,000 reports received in 2020 from the U.S. and Canada.

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CBS 2’s Marissa Parra on Wednesday spoke with one scam victim about his cautionary tale.

Like so many others, Jeff Mason thought the pandemic was the perfect time to expand the family by four legs.

“Back in August, we started talking about getting another puppy to go with our other dachshund,” Mason said. “We started searching on the internet.”

And when he did so, a puppy with a pair of big ol’ blue eyes met him from the other side of the screen. It was love at first sight. So Mason emailed with the seller, they started texting, and they even talked on the phone to negotiate a price.

“We were told the payment needed to be through Zelle, Mason said. “It’s not secure, so when we made the payment of $700 to these people, the transaction proceeded.”

After shelling out hundreds, Mason got a receipt saying that everything was squared away. The newest member of the Mason family, Chief, was on his way home.

No, he wasn’t. Mason then got a call that the seller needed more money for a special carrier.

“I tried calling the number I had – no answer. It went to some Google phone messenger thing. I went to the website. The website was gone,” Mason said. “It was the first thing that made my stomach tie up in knots like, ‘Yeah, I think I’ve been had.’”

We did a reverse Google Image search for that photo that caught Mason’s heart. The same pup appeared on at least two different websites with two different names and claiming he was two different ages. Neither of those websites was even the one that Mason used.

Now, he is out hundreds of dollars – and still has no puppy. Does he think he’ll get the money back?
“I’d love to have it back, because these days. every dollar counts. But I really don’t see it coming back,” Mason said. “I was kind of embarrassed like, ‘Man, I don’t want to tell all my friends.’”

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But Mason is not alone. CBS 2 has done stories about puppy scams before.

The Better Business Bureau said they got roughly 4,000 complaints about puppy scams this year. The BBB also estimates three quarters of websites that advertise puppies for sale are scams.

Mason hopes his story can at least help someone else.

“You want to say trust people, but you really have to be cautious nowadays,” Mason said. “With times being tough, people are looking to make money however they can. It’s scary.”

The Better Business Bureau said it is not a bad idea to try looking up a promising photo online, to make sure it’s not on other websites as well.

Virtually meeting the animal and owner as well as researching the offer is also recommended before paying, to reduce scam incidents, the BBB and Petscams.com both advise.

The BBB also recommends checking out local animal shelters online for pets you can meet before adopting.

Meanwhile, the COVID bump in puppy scams is continuing into the holiday season. BBB data revealed 337 consumer complaints of puppy scams in November 2020 as COVID-19 restriction increased. In November 2019, there were only 77 complaints.

“At the current pace, pet scams reported to BBB will be nearly five times as many as in 2017, when BBB published its first in-depth investigative study on pet scams,” the BBB said in a statement. “The projected dollar loss from these scams is expected to top $3 million, more than six times the total losses reported in 2017.”

If you have been the victim of a pet scam, you can report the incident through the  BBB Scam Tracker, the Federal Trade Commission  or through Petscams.com. 

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