Puppy scammers bite - Commissioner's Blog
With Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe
Puppy scammers are getting their claws into the money of pet-buyers in Western Australia. WA ScamNet – the area of Consumer Protection that deals with consumer fraud – received four reports of monetary loss to puppy sale scams recently. All of the victims had been buying online but there were slight differences in their stories:
- One consumer was trying to buy a French Bulldog puppy after responding to what she thought was a Facebook business page run someone who works at kennels in Queensland. The woman paid $2,500 into an Australian bank account but then realised the whole thing was a scam and reported the details to us.
- One consumer paid $700 for a husky puppy after finding what she thought was a legitimate online pet-selling business. On the Monday the pup was due to arrive she received an email asking for an extra $200 and when she refused to pay, the scammer ceased contact. The email address was simply a free account through Gmail.
- One consumer tried to buy a Pug puppy via an individual’s Facebook page and sent $200 by Western Union to Cameroon. He was later asked to pay a further $800 for insurance and became suspicious. The Facebook page has now been deleted.
- One consumer tried to buy a dog on Gumtree for $600. Upon realising it was a scam he asked for a refund and he was amazingly offered the opportunity to become a money mule (a person recruited to receive funds from scam/fraud victims and then transfer the money to organised criminals in another country).
Commonly the breeds offered in puppy scams are sought-after and usually the asking price is slightly lower than the amount you would normally expect to pay for that type of dog. You will be able to see photos but they may be stolen from social media, meaning they could be images of a dog that already has an owner or even a dog that is no longer alive.
Usually the email addresses used will be through free account providers and sometimes the emails are poorly written due to English being a second language for the overseas-based scammer. Any adverts will likely be on free classifieds websites or social media channels, although sometimes the scammers will pay for classified advertisements using stolen credit card details. Any phone number given will be for a mobile phone or a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Scammers use contact details that can easily be cancelled without trace.
Often the scammers will claim that the puppy is over East and needs to be transported. This will give them a reason to get money from you, such as crate or shipping fees. They may also ask for money towards a vet-check or travel insurance. They will probably want you to send the funds by wire transfer. However, the use of an Australian bank account is possible because they may have someone working as a money mule who accepts money in exchange for commission.
There is always a danger buying things from strangers when you cannot physically see and inspect the item and take it away after handing over cash. Take a step back from any online transaction, speak to someone you trust about it and do some double-checking in regard to the identity or business you are dealing with. E.g. when shopping for a dog, use the registered local breeder search function on the Canine Association of Western Australia website: www.dogswest.com.au. When you are trying to find Eastern States breeders there are similar sites, such as www.dogsnsw.org.au and www.dogsvictoria.org.au.
If you have doubts about an online transaction, call WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54 BEFORE the scammers get their paws on your money.
Consumer Protection has a guide for pet-buyers at: www.commerce.wa.gov.au/consumer-protection/buying-pet and the RSPCA have a guide too: www.rspcapuppyguide.com.au. Tips include considering adopting from a local animal welfare shelter.