Feds warn of online puppy scams

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – If you’re looking for a new pet for the new year – be extra cautious when shopping online; both the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau are warning prospective pet owners about puppy scams.

Scammers often build sites that use stolen photos and content from reputable breeders. According to the FTC, scammers will promise to send a puppy after money has been wired, tack on additional fees, then completely disappear without ever delivering a dog.

Donna Fournier of Woonsocket fell victim to one of these scams, after she fell in love with an 11-week-old Maltese that she found online.

“It said 50% discount in the month of December so I emailed the guy and said I was interested,” said Fournier.

Fournier said the puppy was supposed to come from a breeder in Georgia. After she exchanged a series of texts and emails, she agreed to buy it.

“I said we’ll be sending the money shortly. He said ok, appreciate it,” she said. “He said the puppy will be shipped out this morning and you should receive him.”

Fournier says they even sent her a tracking number for the puppy’s flight.

On the day the puppy was supposed to arrive, another person claiming to work for a transport company asked Fournier for more money for special shipping costs. So she sent them an extra $500.

But, even after spending nearly $1,200, the puppy never showed up.

“The site just looked so real. I even have a picture of the whole family that was supposedly sending me the puppy that looked legit,” said Fournier.

Now her calls and texts to the same number she’d used many times before go unanswered.

“It’s heartbreaking you know, and I hope he gets caught and gets punished for what he’s doing to people,” said Fournier.

She has filed complaints with both the Georgia Attorney General and the FTC.

Dr. Ernest Finocchio, President of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says he’s seen this happen many times before.

“It happens far too often here. These people, these scam artists are experts and they prey on people’s emotions,” says Finocchio.

Finocchio says the easiest way to avoid this scam is to avoid online purchases.

“Stay away from these animals that are advertised on the internet. People should always go to a standing structure, a facility a municipal shelter, a private non-profit shelter such as ours or a breeder’s home,” he said. “You want to see the puppy, the dog, you want to adopt it from that facility.”

But if you do decide to buy a pet online – ask for references and detailed information about the person selling the pet in order to research names and addresses online.

Most importantly, the Federal Trade Commission says you should never wire money, because once it’s sent, it’s gone for good.

The FTC also says that scammers have used this same strategy for other pets, including parrots, kittens, and iguanas.