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DIGGING DEEPER: Pandemic pet problem

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TUCSON - More than 500 dogs and 300 cats are at the Pima Animal Care Center, hoping for forever homes.

Despite those high numbers, pet shelters and rescues nationwide have reported a sharp increase in the number of home-bound people adopting pets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People don’t want to be home alone.

"It's interesting,” said Sean Herdrick of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. “Now that people have more time home, we've seen requests for pets and people getting pets up 90 percent."

While the good news is that more pets have been adopted, the bad news is that scammers are aware of this and are taking advantage.

The BBB has issued a “Scam Alert,” warning potential online buyers to watch out for scammers posing as legitimate sellers or breeders.

"We have been getting so many more reports of these puppy scams that people go out and they purchase a puppy online and they send money or send gift cards and they never receive the puppy,” Herdrick says.

Here is the typical scenario:

A scammer sets up a fake website posing as a breeder. The site contains photos stolen from breeder sites of adorable puppies.

One red flag is that the prices are ridiculously low and another is that the scammers don’t accept credit cards because buyers can dispute the purchase and get their money back.

Some scammers want you to pay with gift cards.

“They're always looking for the quick buck so they try to get you to get gift cards, untraceable ways to pay them so they can just take the money and run," Herdrick said. "I think it's outrageous."

Pam Meichel of Oro Valley bought a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for $2,500 from a legitimate breeder.

However, this was after she was close to paying $1,300 to a scammer.

Meichel had seen his fake website and was on her way to a Fry’s supermarket to get a money order.

"The whole thing just didn't seem right,” Meichel said. “So when I got to Fry's, and I went to talk to them about getting a money order, they said, 'What is this for?' And I said, 'Well, I'm going to buy a puppy.' And they go, 'We've seen too many of these things go bad.'"

The BBB advises consumers to buy pets from shelters and rescues.

However, if you do buy from a breeder, the BBB said to do so in person.

If that is not possible, do extensive research, talk to people who bought from that breeder or check the breeder’s rating on the BBB website.

In addition, avoid paying by wire transfer, a cash app or gift cards because legitimate breeders will not insist you use any of those methods.

The scammer posing as a breeder to Meichel was charging her about half of what a Cavalier King Charles usually sells for and the guy wanted the money that same day.

After the Fry’s customer service employee warned Meichel, she cancelled the deal.

Meichel then called the scammer and told him.

She said he got angry and hung up on her.

"If you think it's too good to be true, it probably is the wrong thing to do,” Meichel said.

For more advice on buying a pet from the Federal Trade Commission, click here.

Matthew Schwartz

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