CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is urging consumers to be careful when responding to online ads selling puppies, kittens, and other pets for little or no cost.
The office’s Consumer Protection Division recently received a report from a north-central West Virginia resident who answered an online ad for a Boston terrier. She negotiated via email with a seller who purported to be from Grafton, but had recently moved to Georgia. As instructed, she purchased a pre-paid debit card and sent the information to the seller. The resident said the seller never responded to her after receiving the payment and the puppy was never delivered as promised.
“Buying a pet online is a big decision, and it should be treated with the same level of scrutiny you’d give any other major purchase,” Morrisey said in a statement. “It’s easy to be taken in by pictures of cute animals, and some consumers may let an emotional attachment to the animal get the better of them.
"We urge consumers to take the time to research the seller and the animal so they can avoid possibly being disappointed later.”
Pet scams are not limited to West Virginia, however. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued an alert about pet scams, explaining that the ads often include a compelling story about why the animal is available and details about the pet’s personality. The FTC said the ads offer to sell the animals for a reasonable price, or give the pet away for free if the new family will pay for the pet’s shipping, vet bills, or other secondary costs first.
“These scams really play off of people’s emotional connection with animals and their desire to provide them with a loving home,” Morrisey said.
Consumers can use the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams:
- Be wary if a seller only wants to communicate via email, online chat, or text messages. Opt instead for face-to-face interactions before buying items from online ads.
- Research the seller before sending any money. Ask for his or her name, mailing address, and phone number, and then see what comes up about the person through an online search.
- Be suspicious of ads that offer popular, expensive breeds of animals for free. In many cases, these scammers will pretend to be a shipping company or a courier who will continue to contact the buyer with unexpected extra “shipping” fees for the animal.
- If you do plan to buy a registered or pedigreed pet, require the seller to provide actual documentation of the pet’s registration with the appropriate kennel club. These documents ensure you’re buying what is being advertised as a legitimate pure-bred animal.
- As with all online purchases, be wary of ads that are poorly written. In many cases, these kinds of scams will originate overseas, and the scammers may not have a good command of the English language.
- Never, ever wire money or send pre-paid debit cards to a person you do not know for an item you have not seen. Pre-paid debit cards and wire transactions are like cash — once they’re gone, it’s nearly impossible to track them down.
The FTC also suggested consumers do a reverse image search of any photos submitted of the pet to see if the animal appears in older ads. To do this, right click on the photo and select “copy image location,” “copy image address,” or go to “properties” to copy the image’s location on the Internet. Paste the link into a search engine and select the option that allows you to search by image. If the same picture shows up in an older listing, it’s probably a scam.