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Online pet scams are back, BBB warns

The onset of Christmas has kicked fraudsters into overdrive as residents of Cochrane take part in the shopping season. 

If you’re considering shopping online for a pet the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is urging people to be aware of scams. In the last three years, the bureau said, it received more than 16,000 reports of pet scams. This year, the BBB said, it has seen an increase of 39 per cent from previous years as fake pet scams are on the rise. 

While the Cochrane and Area Humane Society (CAHS) is in the business of ‘adopting, not shopping’ they do understand how people sometimes make decisions driven by emotions instead of logic.

“It’s very easy to fall for the 'cuteness factor' when it comes to animals, especially young ones,” said Janine Rossler, CAHS acting executive director. “If someone is looking online for a pet, we would encourage [them] to seek out only reputable organizations or request reference checks.”

Rossler recommended prospective pet owners visit the animal to gain a sense of its personality, overall condition and to see how it is being handled. The visit, she added, is also an opportunity to review documentation including proof of ownership, adoption contracts and medical records.

“Humans are generally empathetic to animals, especially when they are in need," she said. "While how an animal ‘looks’ can play a part in choosing a pet, their personality, energy level and how they fit with your whole family and lifestyle is much more important.”

The BBB conducted an investigative study of online puppy scams in 2017, which found that in 60 per cent of reports to the bureau regarding dog sellers, consumers allege never receiving the pet they purchased. Consumers also complain about shipping costs, receiving animals in poor health and/or genetic problems, and not receiving proper documentation for the pet.

The scam, according to the BBB, involves pet sellers claiming to be a reputable breeder or those claiming to be a distraught pet owners who must find a home for their beloved animal. When buyers inquire about the animal, the seller will ask them to wire money through services like Western Union or Moneygram to complete the purchase.

Sellers will promise to ship the animal, the BBB said, but will claim unexpected delays and will give excuses to the buyer. In some cases the seller will request more money to cover pet insurance or an increased shipping cost. In many cases the pet is never delivered, according to the BBB, and the buyer is without a refund.

"Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations," said Mary O'Sullivan Andersen, president and CEO of BBB Serving Southern Alberta and East Kootenay.

"The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet."

Rossler understands why some prospective pet owner choose to purchase an animal, but reminds residents that CAHS has 82 animals available to adopt and another 160 will become available in the upcoming weeks.

CAHS also has a Christmas “wish list” online cochranehumane.ca/donate/wish-list



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