ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- Americans love their pets as shown by the number of pets in homes. Approximately 70% of U.S. households now have one, according to the American Pet Products Association 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey.

As they did with other forms of fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, scammers took the opportunity in 2020 to take advantage of people seeking furry companions. There were 337 complaints of puppy scams in November 2020, compared to 77 reports in November 2019, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). People reported losing an average of $750 on pet scams.

The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) website allows people to report pet scams. More than 100 were reported last month in March, according to their database. However, there are warning signs to watch out for when shopping for a pet online or searching for a pet to adopt.

Pet adoption scams, or rehoming scams, lure people in through advertisements saying a pet needs a new home (to be rehomed). There are several giveaways that can clue people into a potential scam, said the Animal League Defense Fund (ALDF).

Rehoming warning signs

  • An ad that doesn’t include information about the pet’s personality, behavior, and health or an ad with spelling and grammatical errors
  • The person rehoming a pet does not ask for information as a reputable rescue would including someone’s history of pet ownership, if the potential adopter has children, is allowed to have a pet (if renting), and other pertinent questions
  • Suspicious contact information, photos, or descriptions ie. the person refuses to talk on the phone and will only communicate through text or email, an email address with an unrecognizable email provider
  • People rehoming a sick or stolen pet will sometimes request to meet in public rather than at their home, say a third person will deliver the pet, not allow a potential adopter to meet the pet, or say the pet must be shipped
  • An adoption fee that is more than $500

Some tactics used by individuals in rehoming scams are also used in puppy scams. People should do plenty of research before buying a pet online, said the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). They said to watch out for the following when deciding to buy a pet online:

  • An asking price for a pet that is far below the normal rate for that breed
  • The seller insists the pet is shipped and rejects the buyer’s offers to pick up the pet
  • Emails from the seller or shipping company have improper spelling and grammar
  • The seller demands the pet be paid for by money transfer (such as Western Union or MoneyGram), gift card, or prepaid debit card
  • The seller demands more money for things like insurance, pet food, veterinary care, or a special crate before the pet is shipped

The American Kennel Club (AKC) said it’s okay to ask for proof from a breeder, request an in-person meeting or video chat, check referrals or reviews, ask questions, and get documentation. Patience is also important. If a seller is being aggressive, AKC said this could be a warning it’s a scam.

Pet scams can be reported to the BBB Scam Tracker and the IPATA website. People can also search for scams on the IPATA website. It lists scam reports by name, email address, and website.