Dogs are often referred to as man’s (or woman’s) best friend, and in these times of self-isolation necessitated by the global pandemic, demand for furry companions is high.
But so are scams.
Sylvan lake resident Greg Beaulieu, like many people around North America, was looking for a furry friend, both for himself, and for his dog Lola, a three-year-old Maltese Shih Tzu.
The central Albertan is out the equivalent of $1,400, was scammed twice – and nearly a third time – and there is no new pet coming home.
“All I wanted was a puppy,” he said Tuesday.
“The more I looked into it, the more I realized there is no dog.”
In late April, he clicked on an online advertisement and paid $300 through PayPal for a Maltese puppy from a seller in the Grande Prairie area.
He then received a suspicious email from a shipping company, asking for a further sum to insure the pet to come to central Alberta. Not wanting to pay any more, Beaulieu decided he would pick up the pooch himself.
“I drove (as far as) Whitecourt, and waited there for four hours and there was no contact (from the seller),” he said, explaining because he refused to pay any more money, the seller stopped responding.
About a week ago, Beaulieu found another puppy on the internet, this time, from Ohio.
“It all checked out – the website looks legitimate.”
He used Western Union to transfer US$750 to the seller. He received the same fraudulent-looking email asking for more money for the dog to come to Canada. He refused to pay, and again, no pet arrived.
“That shows you this scam is everywhere,” Beaulieu said.
On Monday, he found a third online seller, this time from the Winnipeg area, asking for payment in Bitcoin.
Beaulieu didn’t forward any money, and asked to pick up the two pooches he had his eye on, in person, and make the payment in person. The seller once again ceased contact.
The oilpatch worker wants to raise awareness of these scams, so no one else ends up in the financial doghouse.
“It’s frustrating and it’s sad. I was looking forward to a puppy. We can’t do anything, so I thought, ‘I might as well get a puppy,’ and it would be a companion for (Lola) and a companion for me, too.”
The 54-year-old is home these days like many Albertans, due to the ongoing virus and the price of oil. He wanted to use this time to connect with a dog, as well as train it.
The Better Business Bureau reports many families think the perfect time to get a new pet is when people are struck at home.
Since the virus, many people shopping for dogs have come across scammers who advertise on websites showing animals that don’t exist, or are never shipped.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given scammers the idea to ask for money upfront, or to make excuses why buyers can’t see the pet in person – before heartbroken, would-be pet owners figure out they have been conned, the bureau reports.
Data from the bureau’s scam tracker shows puppy scams have spiked 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.
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.
The agency’s tips to avoid scams include: don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person and avoid wiring money or using cash apps or gift cards.
The bureau also advises research, because if a purebred dog is advertised for free, or at a deeply discounted price, and requires other payments such as for vaccination or shipping, it could be a fraudulent offer.