CLEVELAND (WJW)– The Better Business Bureau Serving Greater Cleveland is warning people of the dangers of buying a puppy online, especially during the holidays.

The BBB said the demand for “quarantine puppies” amid the pandemic increased, along with a spike in scams.

Pet scams, where would-be owners pay hundreds of dollars for an animal that often times doesn’t exist, made up 35 percent of all online purchase scams this year, according to the BBB. These scammers refuse to let the buyer see the pet beforehand, sometimes citing COVID-19 as a reason for not meeting.

These scammers are particularly active around Christmas, using pictures of puppies in Santa hats.

A North Canton woman reported she was conned after seeing a puppy on Facebook. She told the BBB the scammer asked $850 for a dachshund puppy with a $300 deposit.

The victim said she mad, “Many attempts through PayPal, to many different emails. The next day PayPal shut my account down after several attempts that did not go through, the next morning we tried again and he had me send it through Zelle.” She realized it was fake when the alleged breeder asked for another $400 to transfer ownership of the dog.

The BBB offers these tips:

  • Don’t purchase puppies sight unseen: See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this may help avoid a scam.
     
  • Do a reverse image search of animal pictures: Conduct a reverse image search for photographs on the internet by using sites such as Google or TinEye.com. Search pictures of the pet you are considering. Be careful if the same picture appears on multiple websites, because you may be dealing with fraud. 
     
  • Use a credit card when possible: Scammers increasingly ask for payment through untraceable cash apps such as Zelle, Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo, and Apple Pay. Instead, use a credit card or PayPal in case you need to dispute the charges later and never pay a breeder with a money order.
     
  • Search for previous complaints: Research the business at bbb.org. Also, do a Google search of the business name followed by “complaints,” “reviews,” or “scam” and see what pops up. If you find other people have been cheated by this business, steer clear.