The perfect storm for scammers, a pandemic and the holiday shopping season

FRED FLETCHER-FIERRO (HOST) : It’s Morning Edition here on KRPS I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. The demand for quarantine puppies and other pets increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic approaching almost two years now, bringing with it spikes and scams that have persisted, even as the virus lockdowns have a beta throughout the country.

Radio edited interview with Stephanie
Extended edited interview with Stephanie
Photo by Tara Winstead on

Joining me this morning is Stephanie Garland, Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau to talk about this trend of pet scams. We’ve seen a drop. Where is it now?

STEPHANIE GARLAND (GUEST) : So what we’re seeing right now is that the demand for quote, quarantine puppies and other pets it’s increased dramatically during this pandemic.

And so we’ve seen, as we have seen a huge spike in scams, and it’s even continuing, even as some of the virus related lockdowns have been abated, as of course, this Omicron coming back in and things are changing yet. Again, we’re expecting to see any, even more people, especially around the holiday.

The Christmas season, buying puppies. Puppies can be seen as one of the best gifts that you can give people. And a lot of people get very lonely during this pandemic period. So what we’re seeing is that there’s a lot of people, unfortunately, who are losing money and there’s also actually a shortage of.

Due to the high demand. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC actually suspended the import of dogs to the U S from a hundred company countries, a hundred countries, excuse me, deemed at high risk of rabies and the US already imports 1 million dogs every year. So that tells you right there that it’s a huge need. And we’re seeing a lot of people right now lose money to this.

FRED : Yea, that’s incredible. I’ve never heard those statistics that the U S. 1 million dogs from a hundred different countries. That’s incredible. Yeah, I mean, online shopping scams as you and I have covered for a couple of years now. I mean, these are incredible numbers. You know, this isn’t like a 7% increase. You may not know this, but something that just crosses my mind is how does the Better Business Bureau track the increase or decrease in pet scams? It is something like the Better Business Bureau, Scam Tracker.

STEPHANIE : Exactly. And we track it by reporting to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker. And what we found is that so far this year, pet scams have actually made up a third of these types of reports. And what we’re seeing is that the puppy scams, these pet scams are expected to double this year and relation to 2019.

So far this year, it’s already more than four times as many puppy scams reported as in 2017. So that tells you in just four years, they’ve gone up in a big way.

FRED : You know, something else, all that catches my eye is the average amount of people that are losing in this case. It’s almost $1,100. I mean, that is just an incredible amount of money to spend on a dog and then it, or dog or a ignanua or whatever the animal. And then for the pet not to be real, it must really break people’s hearts.

STEPHANIE : Well, it really does. And we’ve had people in this area before. We once had an army soldier who’s coming back from serving in Afghanistan. He thought he bought this puppy for $600 for his little six year old daughter. And then it wasn’t real.

And he just got home from Afghanistan, serving our country and his little girls in tears crying about it because she didn’t get the puppy that daddy promised her. So talk about something that’s heartbreaking and incredibly awful, as well as of course, hurtful financially.

FRED : That’s something else about the Better Business Bureau you hear from people, in the case of Missouri, both here in our listening area. I also see a report of a woman at St. Louis, paying a deposit over Zelle. Is that how you pronounce that?

STEPHANIE : Yes, that’s all. And that’s actually what we advise for people not to use as the Better Business Bureau does not want anybody to use it because you can’t get your money. And if something happens there aren’t protections in place currently. So be very aware that whether you’re paying $1 or $500 in the case of this specific woman for supposedly a really cute puppy, she’d seen online that wasn’t real, that didn’t exist. We don’t want you to lose your money. So don’t use that online payment method.

FRED : Finally, I want to ask, what is law enforcement doing about this is a state thing? Is it a federal agency who works on this?

STEPHANIE : Great question. So law enforcement agencies of all types are working hard on this, specifically the U S department of Justice last year. And this time last year, they announced criminal charges against somebody who lives in Cameroon and Romania

And other tactics the person had actually claimed that he was selling these pets and they had COVID-19 and they would require buyers to purchase a vaccine guarantee document saying that your vaccine, that you’re vaccinated. It’s fine. And guess what? This pet is going to be safe with you now. So there are just all sorts of new methods that people are coming up with every year.

And we can expect, unfortunately, for these to continue as the pandemic continues in different waves.

FRED : Is there anything else you’d like to add?

STEPHANIE : We just want, if you, for, if you have ever experienced a scam, please go to scam tracker and let us know on this story on NPR’S website, we do have three different websites there that are scan websites.

So you could watch out for these active sites identified by that are using a Christmas theme to learn as opposed to customers. So be very cautious.

FRED : Stephanie Garland, Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau. I want to thank you for your time this morning.

STEPHANIE : Thank you


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