For many people, the pandemic has been a lonely experience. For this reason, it can be tempting to go online and search for a new animal companion. Whether it’s a puppy, kitten, or even an exotic bird, pets can relieve stress to spend prolonged periods indoors.
My recent study, however, found there are thousands of scam pet and shipping websites waiting to scam potential pet owners. These were created by opportunistic cybercriminals with the sole aim of defrauding unsuspecting buyers by selling animals that don’t exist.
How it works
Fortunately, the anatomy of how offenders organize pet scams is fairly straightforward, and there are warning signs to spot them.
Pet scams are typically organized in two stages: a hook and a bite. In the first stage of the scam, violators will usually seek to build trust with the unsuspecting buyer by using scripted messages that promise animal welfare articles and post-sales literature.
Photos and videos stolen from legitimate breeders will often be sent to victims as part of this process to convince the buyer that the animal exists. The goal at this point is to rush the victim into paying a deposit, which will usually be requested in the form of a non-refundable payment.
Once the unsuspecting buyer gets hooked, the violator will move on to the second stage of the scam, the sting.
Scammers usually operate a second website, a pet transport company. Using this, they will try to get more money from the buyer by asking for more fees. This will continue until the victim runs out of money or is involved in a scam.
The most common fees typically charged during this stage of the scam are for some sort of refundable freight crate, often one that they claim is “temperature controlled”, despite the fact that the planes already have access to it. ‘pressure and climate control in their freight zones. Offenders can also create their own fictional scenarios and stories. A victim’s comment I found described paying US $ 10,000 (£ 7,306) after being told that there had been a plane crash and that the transaction had resulted in significant legal costs.
Usually, pet scammers only target buyers in geographically larger countries such as the United States, Australia, and Canada, where buyers do not normally visit their pet prior to the checkout. to buy. However, Action Fraud in the UK recently reported consumer losses from pet scams of over £ 280,000 over a two-month period, due to potential buyers not being able to travel to see their pets in person during the pandemic.
A growing problem
Pet scams are not a new problem. The US Better Business Bureau found in a 2017 study that up to 80% of all sponsored advertising links to pet websites were created by these offenders to advertise their websites.
However, the number of victims and the estimated cost of this scam to consumers are believed to be increasing. Victim complaints filed with the United States Better Business Bureau, for example, have quadrupled between 2017 and 2020 to more than 4,000.
Read more: Puppy Breeding Dogs Behave Worse, Suffer Poor Health, Die Young – So Adopt, Don’t Shop
For those looking to buy a pet online, especially during the pandemic, the litmus test for whether you’re interacting with a scammer is having a video chat with any potential seller. Under normal circumstances this can be taken a step further by always visiting the animal in person. Another good resource available to potential buyers is my site, petscams.com, which is the largest publicly available website dedicated to documenting scam pet and shipping websites.
For researchers looking to further explore fraudulent nondelivery websites, there is a significant opportunity. One promising lead in the case of pet scams is to explore the willingness of domain name registrars to shut down these websites in light of the growing threat they pose to consumers. Previous search on fraudulent pharmaceutical websites, for example, discovered that they congregate at certain ‘rogue registrars’, while other registrars who remove these domains may disrupt considerably the activities of crooks.