Calgary, AB,

Police warn of increase in puppy scams during holiday season

While a purchasing a puppy may seem like the perfect way to spread some holiday cheer, we are warning potential buyers of an increase in puppy scams that has cost Calgarians more than $30,000 this year.

So far, this year in Calgary, there have been 33 reports of online puppy scams where buyers provided payment but did not receive their pet. The largest increase in reports occurred in October and November this year, with eight and seven reports respectively.

In 2019, there were 10 reports of puppy scams for the entire year, with an estimated loss of $6,100.

“As we find ourselves in the holiday season and in the middle of a global pandemic, we know that pets can be a great source of companionship, especially for those living alone,” says Const. Kris Anton with the Calgary Police Service Economic Crime Unit. “Unfortunately, there are scammers out there who prey on people’s emotions and generosity this time of year. Our goal is to educate citizens about how to protect their personal information and hard-earned money and how to legitimately purchase or adopt a pet.”

The most common scam scenarios investigators are seeing include buyers looking for sellers online, paying for the full cost, or putting down a deposit upfront but the animal is never received.

Some scenarios promise the dog will be delivered to an agreed upon location, but the seller never shows up. Or, sometimes scammers contact the buyer claiming more funds are needed to transport the dog. Once the buyer becomes suspicious, the seller stops communication.

Warning signs of a possible pet scam include:

  • Asking for payment upfront, and using payment methods like Bitcoin or wire money transfers
  • Requesting additional payment multiple times to cover things like travel, insurance, pet crates etc…
  • Communication from the seller becomes less and less frequent once they receive payment

Unfortunately, recourse for victims can be difficult, especially if the fraudster isn’t local. Police are reminding citizens to:

  • Research local organizations. Consider using local, trusted organizations that you can contact with questions beforehand. Ask about the price of adopting a pet, and if there are known medical costs. If the price seems too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Ask questions. Legitimate breeders and adoption agencies will work with you to offer information about the breed of dog. Ask about breed traits, information about the parents, temperament, the dog’s history or health concerns.
  • Request proof. Ask for proof of health records/screenings and registration with any breed specific organizations, all of which you can confirm by calling the veterinarian or organization.
  • Meet in person. If possible, ask to meet the seller and the dog in person or, at minimum, meet them both via video call. If the seller declines, ask why.
  • Avoid providing payment upfront. Scammers often ask for money upfront and usually in the forms of wire money transfers, Bitcoin or e-transfers. Once payment is sent it cannot be retrieved. Use a method of payment that has some form of fraud protection such as a credit card.
  • Be patient. If the seller pushes you to make a quick decision, be cautious. Don’t trust a seller if they claim they must sell the dog quickly, cannot take care of it or threaten harm to the animal. Responsible breeders and rescues seek out the best homes for their dogs and are typically not in a rush.

To report fraudulent activity, citizens are asked to contact the Calgary Police Service non-emergency number at 403-266-1234, or call 9-1-1 for a crime in progress. Victims can also report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.