FBI Portland
Beth Anne Steele
(503) 460-8099
February 23, 2021

Oregon FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense When Buying a Pandemic Puppy

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. Today: Building a digital defense against getting taken to the dog house!

Pandemic puppies—and, for that matter, kittens—are a real thing. More people are working at home, and the kids can't—or won't—leave the house. Your whole family is desperate for the unconditional love that a little fur ball will bring. Wanting and finding, though, can be two different things. Some shelters are running low and breeders can have months-long waiting lists. To fraudsters, this presents a golden opportunity. According to the Better Business Bureau, it has received reports of about $3 million in losses to this scam in just the past year.

Here in Oregon, we are seeing a couple main versions of this scam. Almost all involve a fake website or ad selling a puppy or cat that is in another state. The victim sends money for the animal (usually by Zelle, PayPal, or CashApp). To make the deal more lucrative for himself, the scammer may also tell the victim he needs to purchase refundable insurance to ship the animal. In a new twist, some families are paying even more fees for a supposed special shipping crate to meet COVID restrictions or for a non-existent COVID vaccine for the pet.

Here’s how to protect yourself:

  • If possible, find your pet locally.
  • If you do purchase a pet online, make sure you find a reputable breeder or organization. Look for a long history of work, references, and certifications through breed-specific clubs or a national kennel club. Do not count on a fancy website as an indicator—anyone can make a good looking site these days.
  • Do a reverse image search of any photo of your new pup to make sure the seller isn't using the same picture across multiple sites.
  • If you can't meet the pup in person, ask for a video chat with the seller and the pup before paying.
  • Use a credit card or payment platform with good dispute resolution policies. Never pay with cash, wire transfer, or gift cards.

If you believe you are a victim of an online scam, you should report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Center at www.ic3.gov or call your FBI local office.