With more people at home during the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for puppies has skyrocketed, and with that demand comes a new warning about thieves targeting people seeking companionship.
"The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has seen a sharp increase in complaints not only locally but nationally regarding puppy scams," said Steve Bernas, the CEO of the BBB serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.
The BBB received 371 reports of puppy scams in April, compared to 121 in March, and 118 in April of 2019.
"This is a very emotional type of scam. They’re pulling on your heartstrings," said Bernas.
Two Chicago women say they fell victim because they rushed the process, eager to find the perfect puppy during quarantine. Jeanette Gaudio was looking for a Golden Retriever and wired nearly $800 to a woman who refused to speak with her by phone.
"She had a hearing problem in both ears, so she could only email or text," said Gaudio. "She would only be able to do money gram for exchanges and then she said she was going to ship the puppy. All of the signs were there looking back on it now. It’s kind of embarrassing."
Latonia Liddell had hoped to purchase a Pomeranian for $670, but says after sending the money through a banking app, she never saw the dog.
"We exchanged information. We were talking back and forth. We communicated through the whole process up until the day I was expecting the puppy and there was nothing," said Liddell.
Instead, Liddell says she got another message demanding an additional $1,500 for insurance.
"Right at that point my antennas went up," she said. "I started looking for scams, and their name popped up."
The BBB says research is key, but there are other red flags to look for including requesting unconventional payment methods, excuses for not seeing an animal in person, and questionable photos.
"You want to meet these dogs in person if at all possible. Try to buy local," said Bernas.
Both Gaudio and Liddell have since found puppies, but they hope their stories are a lesson to anyone in search of a furry companion.
"Don’t let the excitement or emotions get the best of you. Do your homework. Do your due diligence," said Gaudio.
"If it doesn’t feel right, nine times out of 10 it’s not right," said Liddell.