The Better Business Bureau warns puppy scams are skyrocketing during the pandemic, and it’s a trend that’s only expected to get worse over the holiday season.

The organization projects consumers could lose more than $3 million by the end of the year.

“The COVID pandemic has dramatically increased demand for pets,” said Paula Fleming from the Better Business Bureau, pointing out more people are working from home and have the extra time needed to train a puppy.

But with that demand comes a spike in scams. They often start with a simple online search and end in heartbreak, as the buyer hands over money for a pet that doesn’t exist.

“They saw a cute ad or a cute post online or they just went to Google,” Fleming said.

She said the Better Business Bureau is advising “extreme caution” to anyone shopping for a pet online.


Nearly 4,0000 people filed complaints with the BBB between January and November.

When asked by WGME reporter Marissa Bodnar if the scam complaints could increase during the holidays, Fleming said, “Oh, exponentially. Unfortunately, yes.”

Jeana Roth of the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland said there are fewer animals available right now due to COVID-19, especially dogs, which might be driving more people online.

“It’s really kind of taking advantage of this emotional component, you know, people wanting to help an animal, and then it’s a scam and there’s a lot of disappointment all around,” she said.

To avoid falling victim to a scam, the Better Business Bureau offers these tips:

• Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed.


• Do a reverse image search of the photo of the pet to make sure it’s legit.

• See the pet in person, even if it’s over a video call.

• Consider local animal shelters where you can meet in person first.

“It’s definitely a safer option for both the family and the animal,” Roth said.

Experts say scammers are requesting payment through apps like Venmo or Zelle, and it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.

If you do fall victim, you should notify the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and Pet, which tracks the fraudulent sites.

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