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CARMEL, Ind. — A woman who lost almost $2,000 to scammers wants people to be careful when looking for a new pet on the internet.
Reports of pet scams to the Better Business Bureau more than quadrupled in November, compared to the same month in 2019. The BBB reported a huge rise in pet scam reports throughout 2020.
Amber Chester lost one of her cats during the beginning of the pandemic. She and her husband decided to buy a bengal kitten to add to their family, but the breeder she found online in Colorado turned out to be fake.
“I thought I did all the right things, but that was not the case,” Chester said.
Chester corresponded with the company via text and email. She paid $800 for the kitten and even received a contract, but then she was told a problem at the airport required another $1,000 to fix.
“I went ahead and made a decision based on my heart instead of my gut and wound up sending the [money],” Chester said.
The company claimed most of the money would be refunded, but Chester paid through the phone app Zelle which does not allow you to get your money back.
“It was after that, where they started with the emails on, ‘Well, there’s this animal tax that’s going to cost another $4,000 to $5,000,’ and at that point I was like, ‘Wait a second, no more money,’” Chester said. “You’re not getting another penny out of me, where’s my cat?”
Indiana State Veterinarian Dr. Bret Marsh said the Board of Animal Health, as well as the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, have also seen a dramatic rise in pet scam complaints like the one Chester described.
“Our airport in Indianapolis has been one of the airports that’s been reported as saying, ‘Well, a [pet] is being held at the airport, we need more money,’” Marsh said.
Marsh said scammers are coming up with emergency fees for things like transportation, immigration or medical issues that don’t actually exist.
“These scams have been around for a long time, but certainly not in the numbers we’re seeing now,” Marsh said. “We don’t want people to be experiencing this. [A pet] is a very important addition to the family and you don’t want to start it this way.”
Better Business Bureau of Central Indiana CEO Tim Mansicalo said you should watch out for anyone who only corresponds via text or email. If COVID-19 makes it difficult for you to visit a breeder in person, you should set up a video chat to see an animal before paying any money up front.
“If they won’t do that, that’s a real sign that it’s probably not legitimate,” Maniscalo said.
Maniscalo also warned that scammers come up with a lot of different stories about delays in shipment that require more money. You should pay by credit card when possible and try to avoid phone apps like Zelle. If anyone asks you to pay by gift card or wire transfer, that’s a huge red flag that you are being scammed.
“If you give them the money, they’re going to come back at you again in a day or two saying, ‘Well, now we’ve got this and now we’ve got this,’” Maniscalo said.
Maniscalo suggested adopting an animal from a local shelter instead. Marsh also pointed to local veterinarians or the American Kennel Club as resources to find legitimate breeders closer to home.
“If you can see the pet, that would make a big difference,” Marsh said.
Chester ended up finding a breeder in southern Indiana and meeting her in person to see a bengal kitten before paying any money. She hoped that her experience would inform other Hoosiers about these scams and how to spot them.
“Just trust your instincts,” Chester said. “I knew better. I really, really did, but I was so emotional about it that I let the emotions take advantage of the logic.”
You can learn more about pet scams and report them at the link here. If you believe you’ve been scammed, you should also report it to the Better Business Bureau, Indiana Attorney General’s Office, and Federal Trade Commission.