Love of pets exploited by scammers with substantial consumer losses

WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
  • 44 WA consumers have lost almost $90,000 in pet scams so far in 2022
  • Scammers exploit emotional attachment to their fake images and videos
  • Advice to shop locally and physically inspect the pet before paying
  • Images of cute puppies and kittens are being used by scammers to lure their victims into paying thousands of dollars for a pet that doesn’t exist and the consumer losses are substantial.

    So far this year WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection has received 63 reports with 44 victims losing a total of $89,220. In 2021, 225 reports were received with 147 Western Australians handing over $381,589 to scammers for fake pets. The highest individual loss in 2022 is $7,500, and $16,000 in 2021.

    Most victims have responded to online advertisements, mostly on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, before being directed to a fake website and then paid the money by bank transfer. They are later contacted by a fake courier company that extracts more money from the victims in the guise of paying for a shipping crate, insurance, immunisations, vet fees, accommodation or storage costs.

    When the pet fails to arrive, the original seller and the courier company become uncontactable.

    Executive Director of Consumer Protection Trish Blake said there are some red flags to watch out for to avoid becoming a victim.

    “The loudest alarm bell should be if the trader only accepts payment via direct bank transfer or a transfer service and not by credit card or PayPal as these methods offer more protection to consumers if the pet doesn’t turn up,” Ms Blake said.

    “The puppy and kitten images and videos are often stolen from legitimate websites so a reverse image search may uncover the real site where the pet is being advertised.

    “Other warning signs are limited contact and no address details on the website and claims of being a registered breeder that can be easily verified.

    “The scammers exploit our love of pets and the excitement we feel when we are about to receive a puppy or kitten and are heartbroken when they don’t arrive. The demand for pets has increased as people spend more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic so more people are vulnerable to falling for these scams.

    “While we have become accustomed to online shopping, buying a pet will be safer if consumers shop locally so they can personally inspect the pet and meet its owner. As an alternative, seriously consider adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue centre that is in need of a good home.”

    Pet scam prevention tips include:

    • Undertake a Google image search of photos on the website to see if they have been copied from other websites/breeders

    /Public Release. View in full here.