Online puppy scams on the rise in Edmonton during pandemic: police

Edmonton Police say they want to warn the public about a sharp rise in online puppy scams during the pandemic, as we head towards Christmas.

In 2019, EPS had one complaint about virtual puppy fraud. But between April and October 2020, they’ve seen 17.

Acting Det. Dana Gehring with the cybercrime investigations unit said scammers are taking advantage of the situation.

“I think you’re finding people are trying to find some sense of normalcy, and they’re trying to find companionship. They’re reaching out, they’re looking for puppies, and they’re getting pulled into some of these scams.”

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Gehring said some of the victims found the seller’s advertisements on Kijiji, others posted that they were looking for puppies and the suspects contacted them. In other cases, victims simply searched puppies for sale and followed the links to fraudulent websites.

“The websites look fancy, they look legit,” he said.

“On most of these sites, the purebreds that are being displayed are undervalued. When you’re trying to get a purebred puppy, you’re looking at $1,500 to $5,000. These puppies are being advertised for $400-$500. Sometimes they’re free – you just have to pay for the shipping.”

Gehring said there are a few red flags people should be wary of, including the photos.

“They’re the same images, and they’re stock photos, so watch for those,” he explained.

He said potential buyers should always do their research with a Google search before sending any money – and always ask to see the animals, either in person or via video.

“Most legitimate breeders have a contact section. And you can at least have the option, even in this type of situation that we’re having with the pandemic, of viewing the puppies, having a video conference call with the breeder to get more information.”

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Another problem is the scammers are convincing families to pay with Bitcoin, through a service like Western Union, or via e-transfer.

“I know a lot of people are paying with e-transfers these days, but what we’re finding is when you use that service, it’s as good as cash. That money is very hard to retrieve and get back.”

He said making arrests is also a challenge because although the sellers say they’re in North America, they’re often overseas.

On average, victims are losing $2,400 to the fraud, but one person shelled out $12,000. Overall, these scams have cost Edmontonians more than $40,000.

“Those are some significant funds, especially now, in the pandemic. People can’t afford to be losing that kind of money,” Gehring said.

“They tug at the heartstrings of potential puppy owners.”

He said real breeders will be able to show health and vet records, affiliation with the Canadian Kennel Club and tell you the puppy’s history – including information about its parents.

“Right here in our own city, we have a lot of reputable rescues, we have the Humane Society. There’s a lot of puppies that need adoption, and it will cost you a lot less money. These puppies need a good home. We would encourage Edmontonians to look here.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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