The well-documented spike in puppy adoptions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately been accompanied by a spike in a heinous type of fraud - puppy scams.
Puppy scams typically involve a scammer advertising a puppy or puppies for sale online. They may post photographs and even videos of puppies. They may even provide a physical address, usually not their own.
The websites can be very elaborate and convincing.
One of my clients, who prefers not to be named, revealed to me that her family had been caught out by puppy scammers during the pandemic.
In early 2019, the family said goodbye to their 17-year-old poodle.
They were very sad at the time, but said that they planned to get another dog after they had a big family trip the next year.
Come March 2020 and the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, their travel plans were shelved.
Now that both adults in the household were working from home, they decided to adopt a cavoodle.
After all, they would have time to socialise the new puppy.
Or so they thought.
It didn't take long to find cavoodles for sale online. Prices varied, but they found what they thought was a reputable breeder selling puppies for what they felt was a reasonable price.
They emailed the breeder, who was located in another state. The breeder texted photos and videos of the litter.
After much deliberation, they selected a bright looking female puppy from the videos, and paid a $2000 deposit.
The breeder sent a few more photos.
Four weeks later, when the puppy was due to arrive, the breeder contacted them and advised that due to COVID-related restrictions, transportation of the dog across state borders would incur additional costs.
Desperate for their new puppy, the family complied, transferring $1000.
She never arrived.
They texted the "breeder", and received no response. Their emails went unanswered. They were devastated.
Having just begun to recover from the heartbreak of losing their other dog, they had become attached to the idea of this new puppy.
They notified police, but their funds were not recovered.
They were horrified to learn that the police knew of other people exploited by puppy scammers.
This month the Companion Animal Network Australia (CANA) paired with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to raise awareness about puppy scams.
They found that, compared to 2019, there was a five-fold increase in "corrupt schemes to extort money out of consumers for dogs that did not exist" to the tune of around $300,000.
They recommend doing due diligence.
Ideally, you should only purchase or adopt an animal when you, or someone on your behalf, can meet the seller in person.
It is also a good chance to meet the parents of the puppy, and inspect the environment in which they were reared.
They also recommend pasting the exact wording from an ad into your internet browser, and doing a reverse image search for pictures of the specific puppy to locate potential matches in text or images elsewhere.
If you have any doubts, ask a reputable dog breeder association, animal welfare organisation or your veterinarian.
If you suspect you are the victim of a puppy scam, contact your bank or financial institution immediately. You will also find useful information at www.scamwatch.gov.au
My client and her family eventually adopted a puppy who is now a cherished member of their close knit family.
However, they could have done without the heartache and financial pain.
Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.
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