26 September 2023

Scammers cash in on their pet project

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Consumer Protection says scammers are cashing in on people’s love of animals, luring their victims into paying thousands of dollars for a pet that doesn’t exist.

“Images of cute puppies and kittens are all they get,” the Agency says.

Executive Director of Consumer Protection, Trish Blake said so far this year the Agency’s WA ScamNet had received 63 reports with 44 victims losing a total of $89,220.

“In 2021, 225 reports were received with 147 Western Australians handing over $381,589 to scammers for fake pets. The highest individual loss in 2022 is $7,500, and $16,000 in 2021,” Ms Blake said.

She said most victims responded to online advertisements, mostly on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, before being directed to a fake website where they paid the money by bank transfer.

They were later contacted by a fake courier company that extracted more money from the victims in the guise of paying for a shipping crate, insurance, immunisations, vet fees, accommodation or storage costs.

“When the pet fails to arrive, the original seller and the courier company become uncontactable,” Ms Blake said.

She said there were some red flags to watch out for to avoid becoming a victim.

“The loudest alarm bell should be if the trader only accepts payment via direct bank transfer or a transfer service and not by credit card or PayPal, as these methods offer more protection to consumers if the pet doesn’t turn up,” Ms Blake said.

“The puppy and kitten images and videos are often stolen from legitimate websites so a reverse image search may uncover the real site where the pet was being advertised.”

She said other warning signs were limited contact and no address details on the website and claims of being a registered breeder that could be easily verified.

“The demand for pets has increased as people spend more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic so more people are vulnerable to falling for these scams,” Ms Blake said.

“While we have become accustomed to online shopping, buying a pet will be safer if consumers shop locally so they can personally inspect the pet and meet its owner. As an alternative, seriously consider adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue centre that is in need of a good home.”

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