PET SCAMS DURING THE WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC

Dr. Sherry McCoy PhD

is a freelance writer & actor for the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program (SSSAP) in Los Angeles. Follow SSSAP on Facebook . For more info re: SSSAP, contact Adrienne Omansky at SSSAP4U@gmail.com. Questions for the writer should be directed to “Dear Sherry” at Not Born Yesterday! P.O. Box 722, Brea, CA 92822 or nbynews@juno.com.

“PET SCAMS DURING THE WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC”

Dr. Sherry McCoy, PhD – Stop Senior Scams℠ Acting Program

Welcome to November of 2020!  It’s hard to believe, but this year is almost over. Should we thank our lucky stars and say hallelujah!? Maybe. I think it goes without saying that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years of our lives. Because of the pandemic, most seniors have been “staying safer at home” since mid-March.  That means that many of us have been home alone for the past 7+ months, separated from our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, and our friends. Yes, there’s Zoom for those of us who are courageous enough to venture into the world of online video technology, but it’s a poor substitute for face-to-face, meaningful interactions with loved ones.  Long gone are the days when you could leisurely stroll to the senior center, or your favorite coffee shop, and spend a few hours shooting the breeze with your close friends over cups of coffee and perhaps a chocolate croissant, or two.  It’s downright depressing! As a result, many seniors are suffering from increased anxiety and a kind of desperate loneliness brought on by this extended, but necessary isolation.  How best to cope with it all?  Many older adults have made it their business to get a pet as a companion animal.  Spending time with a furry friend can make all the difference in the world right now.  So, it is no surprise that pet sales are a booming business during this pandemic!

But, sadly, it is also not a surprise that scammers — true to their nefarious nature — have upped their game this year regarding pet scams, i.e., selling pets that don’t exist.(1)  A common ploy scammers use to reel us in to their bogus pet sales schemes, is to say the pet is yours for “free!”, and all you have to do is pay the shipping fee.  So, you pay the con artists a hefty shipping fee, and in return you get … nothing.  What kind of a deal is that?!  Remember – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in late August of this year (2), pet scams have skyrocketed to more than 3 times the amount reported to the BBB Scam Tracker in previous years. Further in their report, the BBB indicates —

  • 24% of reported online scams are pet scams.
  • $700 is the average amount of money lost, per pet scam.
  • According to the BBB Risk Index*, pet scams are now considered to be the riskiest scam.
  • “Of those targeted for a pet scam, 70% end up losing money.”

And finally, pet scams are also one of the most emotionally devastating and heart-breaking scams out there. Essentially, all scammers are selling lies.  It’s just that the lies they use to sell you a non-existent pet are particularly egregious.

If you are looking for a new pet online, here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help you steer clear of fraud (3):

  • Work with legitimate local animal shelters or rescue leagues to adopt a pet – Most legitimate animal shelters and rescue leagues post their adoption fees online and will not stick you with “surprise” charges down the line.  Also, if you work with a local animal shelter, you might not have to pay any adoption fees until you go to pick up your new pet.  This is in stark contrast to scammers who usually want you to pay fees up front, and then other “surprise” charges later – all for a non-existent pet. For referrals to local, authentic animal shelters, contact the Humane Society of the United States at https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/adopting-animal-shelter-or-rescue-group
  • Do your homework – If you’re interested in getting a particular breed of a cat or dog, find out all you can about local breeders – location, phone number, reliability, etc. Then research online to see what other people are saying about their experiences with that breeder.  If the word “scam” pops up, beware.  For tips on how to find a reputable breeder, check out what the Humane Society has to say – https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-find-responsible-dog-breeder
  • Don’t pay for the pet with gift cards or wire money – If someone wants you to buy a pet online using gift cards or asks you to wire money, it most likely is a scam.  Using gift cards and wire transfers is the same as buying with cash. If there’s a problem, you’re unlikely to get your money back.
  • Search online for the image of the pet you’re interested in – Fraudsters often use the same stock photos of pets on different websites.  If you search online and find the same photo of the pet you’re interested in, that’s a pretty good clue that it’s a scam!

If you believe you have been the victim or the target of a pet scam, report it to the BBB Scam Tracker at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker. You may also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1.  And then — Pass It On!  If you have questions about Medicare fraud / abuse or believe you have been the victim of Medicare fraud, please contact the Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at 1-855-613-7080. For more info regarding California SMP, go to www.cahealthadvocates.org. Contact the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office online at http://da.lacounty.gov// or phone (213) 974-3512.

*For more information about how the BBB Risk Index is calculated and what it means, see page 10 of “New Risks and Emerging Technologies: 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report” — https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/council-113/media/bbb-institute/riskreport2019/2019-scamtracker-riskreport-final.pdf

(1) “Pet Scams on the Rise as Adoptions Skyrocket Amid Pandemic,” Jeff Ehling, September 18, 2020,

https://abc13.com/puppy-scam-online-pet-buying-better-business-bureau-a-dog-or-cat/6437411/

(2) “BBB Warning: Puppy Scam Reports Skyrocket During COVID-19 Pandemic,” August 26, 2020, https://www.bbb.org/article/news-releases/22363-is-that-quarantine-puppy-real-puppy-scam-reports-skyrocket-during-covid-19-pandemic-bbb-warns

(3) “Finding a furry friend in the era of COVID-19,” Namukolo Kasumpa, May 20, 2020,  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/05/finding-furry-friend-era-covid-19

STOP SENIOR SCAMS ACTING PROGRAM is on YOUTUBE!

Although the Stop Senior Scams ℠ Acting Program (SSSAP) in-person performances are on hold during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we are committed to continuing our education program through our videos on Zoom.

  • We are happy to announce our most recent video, released mid-October, called “Robocalls, Mail Fraud, and Merlin with the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program.” Besides taking a look at scams that utilize robocalls and the U.S. Postal Service, this video also explores pet scams and features our friend “Merlin, the Cat!” Watch it here — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA3noym9JPo&t=2s
  • For an overview of some of the most prevalent scams that target seniors in the United States, watch our video called “The Top Senior Scams with the Stop Senior Scams Acting Program.” —https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cp097g7hTUg&t=13s

Please subscribe (free of charge) to the SSSAP YouTube Channel and you’ll be notified when new videos are released!  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjFjb-WPPr8KAXq1dlu1EvA  Together we can combat fraud!

Remember:  You may be a target, but you don’t have to be a victim!

Dr. Sherry McCoy, PhD, is a freelance writer & actor for the Stop Senior Scams℠ Acting Program (SSSAP) in Los Angeles.  PLEASE NOTE — The “Virtual Westside Safety and Preparedness Fair” which was originally scheduled for November 8, 2020, has been postponed till after the first of the coming year. We will keep you updated as more info becomes available.  For more information re SSSAP, please contact Adrienne Omansky at SSSAP4U@gmail.com.  Questions for the writer should be directed to “Dear Sherry” at Not Born Yesterday! P.O. Box 722, Brea, CA 92822 or nbynews@juno.com.

 

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