Protect yourself from Internet pet scams

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted June 02, 2012, at 4:39 p.m.

You or a family member has been dreaming of owning a pet for some time. Now the time has come to do some serious research about the pros and cons of adding a member of the animal kingdom to your family.

We urge every consumer to do as much research as possible into any major expenditure because the addition of a pet can represent a serious outlay of cash. Many consumers turn to the Internet when they need answers, and this instance is no exception.

What consumers may find, however, is a confusing assortment of sales pitches, some of which contain more truth than others. Cutting to the chase, let’s go to the worst-case scenario first. A pet is offered for sale, but after the outlay of money, no pet is delivered and the prospective owner’s money cannot be recovered.

That was the case of our very disappointed consumer from northern Maine. She wrote last month to say that she had her heart set on an English bulldog puppy but ended up with nothing but heartache and a lower bank balance.

She found a puppy on LovelyBulldogPets.com, a website registered in Douala, Cameroon, Africa (odd, for a business purportedly in Mississippi). Curiously, identical puppy pictures and puppy names turned up on two other websites not registered in the United States. The site names suggest the registrant may or may not also deal in “French Bullies” and “Hyacinth Macaws.”

Our prospective adopting consumer at first was told she would receive a 40-percent discount, with her puppy costing $500 “including shipping and delivery.” The seller suggested shipping the puppy on a commercial airliner as the least stressful and fastest way of delivery. In a later email, she was advised a special air-conditioned shipping kennel was needed or the airlines would refuse to transport the puppy.

That would cost another $950, but she was assured that “upon the delivery of the puppy, $900 will be refunded back to you” and the delivery people would take back the kennel. The seller was insistent that she send her payments by Western Union; this type of anonymous electronic transfer makes recovery impossible when a dispute occurs.

The dispute in this case was the company’s failure to deliver. Our consumer showed us emails containing repeated assurances that the dog would be flown to Bangor International Airport, but it never was.

“If we’d stepped back and really looked at it, instead of wanting the dog so badly, we probably would have acted differently,” she told me.

This crime has been repeated so often, it’s been named the Cameroon Pet Scam. Victims wire money, only to be told that more money is needed; the crooks keep trying the tactic even after the pet supposedly has been shipped. Once a pet has been “sold” several times, the scammers simply move on. They also use websites which offer “free trials,” so they can avoid leaving a paper trail that paying for ads would create.

There are a few “do’s” and many “don’ts” here:

• Do read ads carefully for misspellings and grammatical errors. Many such scams are based outside the United States, and scammers’ grasp of the English language is often less than perfect.

• Don’t wire money to anyone you don’t know.

• Don’t be swayed by overly emotional appeals or messages that dwell too much on one’s family; legitimate businesses don’t play that card.

• Don’t give out more information than is necessary. Get your questions (about the dealer, puppy’s lineage, etc.) answered first.

• Do, if you’ve been scammed, file a report with your local police department. Consider adding your experiences to those reported on fraudwatchers.org or similar websites to help educate other consumers.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/06/02/business/protect-yourself-from-internet-pet-scams/ printed on July 30, 2014