The Investigators: Ways to avoid pet scams

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 9:54 PM CDT
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HERNANDO, Miss. (WMC) - Dozens of Mid-South animal lovers have been scammed over the past several months in rip-offs totaling more than $100,000.

Maddelyn Bridgewater tried to mend a broken heart this summer after her beloved cat, Lilly, got hit by a car.

She searched for a new kitten online.

“I was really excited for the kitten because Lilly, I just wanted to get my mind off her because it happened so fast,” said Bridgewater.

She fell in love with a beautiful Bengal kitten named Lizy she picked out on a website called King Bengals Kittens.

“It was pretty easy to contact the breeder,” Bridgewater recalled. “Like, they responded to us right away. He sent us, like, pictures of his driver’s license and when I say multiple pictures of this cat, it was multiple pictures. It wasn’t just one picture. He also sent this official-looking contract.”

Bridgewater paid $950 via Zelle per the breeder’s request. Then, she got ready to welcome Lizy into the family.

“It didn’t even really occur to me that people would scam people out of pets,” said Bridgewater’s mother, Tiffany.

Tiffany, says the breeder wanted more money to transport Lizy by airplane in a special air-conditioned crate the seller said was needed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“And the email looked legit, like it was actually from the United Airlines pet cargo. That’s what it looked like it was from. And they were asking for $1,100 for a crate on top of the $950 we had already spent on the kitten,” Bridgewater explained.

Tiffany told the breeder the crate fee wasn’t in the contract and they weren’t paying it.

“And then I called the airlines and they said they haven’t shipped pets since May because of COVID,” said TIffany.

Lizy never arrived because Lizy never existed.

This particular site is scamming people all over the country,” said Daniel Irwin with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

Irwin says the BBB ScamTracker website contains numerous complaints about King Bengals Kittens.

One victim reported she paid more than $2,000 for a crate, another $600 for insurance, food, and water, plus $950 for the cat.

“Now, I’m out $3,650, which I’m trying to get back or get the cat, but neither is working,” the victim wrote.

Another Scam Tracker report says, “I asked for a video call, but they declined. I asked to see the cat in person, but said they couldn’t because of medical issues.”

And another victim who paid the crate charge wrote, “After giving them their $450 transport fee, they ghosted me and I never heard from them again.”

All the victims paid through PayPal or used gift cards.

“Whenever anybody doesn’t want you to use a credit card on an internet site and they only want to do a transaction via Venmo, CashApp, or Zelle, that should be a very big red flag,” warned Irwin.

Other red flags to identify a pet scam include the following:

  • The breeder only communicates via email or text. Fraudulent sellers are often in foreign countries and don’t want to use the phone.
  • The website uses Scammer Grammar - broken English with bad punctuation
  • They want you to pay extra shipping or crate costs
  • And again, the seller won’t accept credit cards

“You don’t have any recourse to get your money back,” said Irwin.

Irwin says pet scams now represent about half of all online purchase scams reported to the Memphis BBB.

There have been 71 reports this year, which is up from 58 reports last year.

Victims are out more than $116,000. The average financial loss is $700 per person.

The BBB also has a warning about two other bogus pet sites: Logan’s Pit Bull Home, which claims to be a breeder based in Tennessee.

“The address they have listed on their contract on the website is a vacant building in Jackson, Tennessee,” Irwin said.

Irwin says many Mid-Southerners have fallen prey to Golden Retriever Kennels, including an unlikely victim.

“We actually had a retired FBI agent who worked in cyber crimes who called our office a couple of weeks ago, and he was a victim of a puppy scam,” Irwin said.

To avoid falling for a pet scam, the BBB suggests the following:

  • Meet the pet in person or via a video call
  • Do a reverse image search to see if the pet picture appears on multiple websites. If so, it’s likely a scam.
  • Check the BBB or to see if the website is flagged.

Getting taken to the cleaners by a bogus breeder is a costly lesson that Bridgewater learned the hard way.

“If something turns you off, something makes you feel like this might not be right, even if it’s super small, then I wouldn’t go through with it,” Bridgewater said.

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