Contact 2: BBB releases new study on puppy scams

ST. LOUIS - Danny Shelton thought he was buying a Weimeraner puppy from a website. He sent the seller a $700 MoneyGram payment. When the supposed seller asked Shelton for an extra $1,400 for insurance, he knew he’d been hustled. There never was a dog for sale; Shelton never recovered his money.

“I feel bad. I just want to see this guy get knocked off-line,” Shelton said.

Shelton isn’t alone. According to a 2015 report, the Federal Trade Commission received 37,000 pet issue complaints. The vast majority of those are believed to be pet scams.

“We knew there was a problem with pet frauds. It’s even worse than what we thought when we got into this,” said Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist.

The results of a new Better Business Bureau study found the actual numbers of pet fraud cases may be much higher than reported.

“In short, anyone doing an online search for a pet is almost certain to come across one of these fraudulent offers," said Michelle Corey, St.Louis BBB president and CEO.

Many victims choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help. As for who’s committing these crimes?

“We believe most of the people running these frauds are actually out of the country Cameroon, which shares a border with Nigeria in Western Africa. That’s demonstrated by some recent arrests that’ve taken place around the world,” Baker said.

Studies show most victims are in their 20s and 30s. Most complaints involve people trying to buy Yorkies and French bulldogs. And most people wind up losing between $100 and $1,000 in these scams.

“We encourage people to either adopt from a local shelter or rescue,” said John Goodwin, Senior Director, Humane Society of the United States.

Or if you’re looking for a specific breed, experts recommend meeting the breeder in person. Insist on seeing the mother dog and the conditions where she and the litter live.

The BBB study offers several tips for preventing becoming a victim of a puppy scam:

  • Don't buy a pet without seeing it in person.
  • Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or Moneygram.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting.
  • If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer.
  • Consult the Humane Cociety of the United States. It refers consumers to local shelters.