Puppy fraud is on the rise as scammers play on pet lovers’ isolation amid pandemic

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OTTAWA -- The Better Business Bureau says puppy scams are a growing problem across the country as fraudsters look to take advantage of lonely pet lovers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bureau says Canadians have lost about $300,000 so far this year after falling prey to fake breeders, compared to about $150,000 during all of 2019.

The non-profit organization and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre have received 364 pet-scam complaints combined, with more than 250 of those reporting money lost -- and August as the worst month since the outbreak.

Bureau spokeswoman Jessie St-Cyr says red flags include low prices -- under $1,000 for a purebred -- pressure to complete the purchase quickly and unsecured payment methods such as Bitcoin, gift cards or Western Union.

She says buyers can fend off fraudsters by asking for several references -- including the vaccinating veterinarian -- checking the creation date of the website of the breeder and transport company, and holding off on payment until having seen the dog in person or by virtual meeting. 

St-Cyr says scammers often cite the coronavirus as a reason to avoid in-person meetings and are trying to exploit people who are seeking companionship amid the isolation of the pandemic.

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