Pet scams during Covid are big business; listen to a couple of sad tales with happy endings

As most readers know, I have a dog named Rusty.  I’m on my third rescue dog now. Lucky, Rusty’s older brother, played a big part in a lot of stories I’ve written, so I was really excited to talk with today’s guests in The Perfect Scam podcast, Danny and Alison, about their beloved pets. I love pet adoption stories. The love of a pet is really something special. The fact that this amazing love gets taken advantage of, is exploited by criminals, well that just makes me eye-popping angry. And right now, a lot of circumstances have aligned that seem to make pet crimes, well, the perfect scam.

Required picture of Rusty

The Better Business Bureau says reports of pet scams are up six-fold since they last studied the problem in 2017, and they expect US losses to top 3 million dollars this year. Why the huge spike? Many people stuck at home during the pandemic have decided it’s the perfect time to welcome a new puppy, any new pet, into their homes. So thankfully, shelters and breeders are running out of adoptable pets. But that has pushed some would-be adopters to extremes to find a pet to love and well, that’s where the scammers come in.

Listen to this podcast by clicking the play button below, or visiting AARP’s The Perfect Scam website, or get it wherever you get podcasts.


00:17:20] Steve Baker: Okay, so the scammers have a pet, photo of a pet, description posted online, somebody sees it. They think they’re interested. They reach out, contact them. A, a lot of the time it’s, that’s through uh text messages or emails. People say sure the pet’s available; they answer any questions you’ve got.

[00:17:40] Bob: The one thing they can’t do, they can’t let you visit the pet. So, they make sure it’s a long distance sale. That might normally arouse suspicion, but remember, during the pandemic, plenty of people are getting pets from far away.

[00:17:54] Steve Baker: Since they’re physically distant, you’ve not only got to pay for the pet, you’ve got to pay for shipping the pet to your location. They’re not going to let you come and inspect it in person. So people send some money for the initial payment for the pet. Then they need money for airfare for the pet, and if people send that, then they’re going to come back with a request for more money.

[00:18:15] Bob: And if that works, well they just keep on going, asking for more money.

[00:18:19] Steve Baker: And in the last year there’s a lot of people that are, you know, special shots or vaccines or a COVID-compliant crate, whatever the heck that is, that’s supposedly going to be refunded at the, once you receive your pet. And if you send the money for that, then there’s special shots. Or if the puppy’s problem has risen at, at an airport, and the puppy’s stuck, and you need money, send money for food and stuff for the puppy. And the worst thing is, if you figure out, and once you do figure out it’s a scam, eventually, they tell you that the puppy is like stuck at an airport, and they’re going to report you to the FBI for animal abandonment for not sending more money for the puppy, which, of course, they never do since they’re crooks. But nobody wants to be reported to the FBI, and of course, the FBI would never take on a case like this.

[00:19:09] Bob: Pet scams aren’t new, but complaints about them are skyrocketing.

[00:19:14] Steve Baker: Well, a lot of it’s due to the pandemic. There are people that have been kind of confined at home without much, and they’re looking for some companionship. There’s also people that are now working at home with their families and if they’re thinking about, would this be a good time to add a pet to the family if we’re around all the time and don’t have to worry about being gone during the day. So there’s several reasons people have decided that this is a great time to add a puppy or other pet to their lives, and of course, people do what they do, uh these days, they go online, and they look for a puppy. And unfortunately, the internet is just saturated with fake ads for puppies that, from photos that have been taken from other sites, and the puppies don’t really exist, or at least not from the people advertising them. I don’t think you can get online these days and look for a puppy without coming across a scam, no matter where you kind of go online to look.

[00:20:08] Bob: The scam is so widespread that an earlier study Steve did, found that about 80% of the ads people encounter when searching for pets online are fake.

[00:20:19] Bob: How much do people typically…

[00:20:20] Steve Baker: They just keep draining money from people as long as they can do it. How much? Well, this year it looks like the average amount lost, the median is about just over $1000, and over the last two or three years it’s like 870, but that’s a lot of money, especially for families. Um, I talked to one woman who’s a single mom, getting by paycheck on paycheck, and they not only cleaned her out, she’d also borrowed more money from family members, which she was not able to pay back. So, I mean the, the financial hit can be really significant for people. And in addition to the financial damage from these things, a lot of people are really emotionally devasted.

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About Bob Sullivan 1637 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.


  1. Hi Bob, a family member was recently scammed out of $850 for a pet via Zelle. I skimmed your other article regarding Zelle but didn’t see anything related to getting funds returned if authorized by the owner of the account for a fraudulent purchase. Any thoughts, suggestions, or places to find further information would be deeply appreciated. Thank you!

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