Online pet scams rip off NC residents as more people seek furry friends during COVID-19 pandemic

Consumer Watch

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Online pet scams continue to surge as people seek companionship from a furry friend during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina says people across the state lost $11,000 to pet scams during July.

A Raleigh woman was one of those victims. She lost hundreds after a pet scammer played on her emotions.

Amber Berger’s 16-year-old-Yorkie, Scruffy, is dying of cancer and she wanted a puppy to help ease her through the pain of what will be his ultimate loss.

“I went online without thinking,” said Berger. “I went online without knowing about pet scams and Googled Corgi Puppies.”

She found a female Corgi named Benny who the website owner said she could have for $450 plus $200 for shipping.

“I said ‘I’m confused.’ Why is it named Benny but it’s a female?” Berger wanted to know.

The website owner sent her videos of the supposed female puppy, but red flags started to wave for Berger.

In one video, a woman can be heard saying “Good boy” as she fed the dog treats for doing a trick. In another video, someone is giving the puppy belly rubs as it lays on its back, and it’s obvious it is a male, not a female.

“He doesn’t have female parts,” said Berger. “That should have told me right there it’s not true.”

When the website owner sent her an email with information about the puppy, it contained two glaring misspellings.

A sentence that was supposed to read “She is very friendly with kids,” said “She is very friendly with kiss.” A phrase referring to other household pets read, “other whole hold pets.”

Those misspellings were more red flags, but Berger plowed ahead because the videos won over her heart.

The BBB says that emotional hook is part of the scam.

“You get so attached to even a picture,” said Alyssa Parker, of the BBB of Eastern North Carolina.

After paying $200 for shipping, Berger then got another email asking her to pay an additional $2,000 for a special temperature-controlled shipping crate.

That red flag finally caught her attention.

“I didn’t feel comfortable with that,” said Berger. “It doesn’t seem right to me.”

After refusing to pay for the special crate, Berger tried to cancel the deal.

When she asked the website owner to refund her $650, the owner said, “Come and get it.”

“Supposedly the dog was going to be shipped from Montana,” she said.

The seller wanted her to come to Montana to get her money back.

When she questioned him, Berger said the seller started to curse her.

She had wired the money to him and never got it back — nor did he send the puppy.

Before you send money for a pet you’ve seen online, the BBB says to protect yourself.

“One thing we push for is to see a pet in person,” said Parker. “If they say they can’t meet, ask for a video call with the seller and the puppy together.”

Berger finally got a Corgi puppy from a local North Carolina breeder, and that time she did go to see it before she completed the transaction.

Another way to protect yourself is to do some research ahead of time.

A good place to start is the website Petscams. It not only lists scam websites but also works to try and shut them down.

After Berger lost her $650, she went to Petscams to check on the person who tried to sell her the female puppy named Benny.

She said she found her Montana puppy seller listed as a scam on the website. She said she wished she’d looked there first.

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