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$4.2 million lost on furry friends: Avoid getting caught out

·Personal Finance Editor
·3-min read
Australian currency and a woman holding a pet puppy.
Aussies have increasingly been caught out by pet scams. (Source: Getty)

Aussies lost millions of dollars to pet scams last year as the pandemic spurred an increase in those looking to fill their home with a furry friend.

But it also gave increased opportunity to fraudsters looking to capitalise on people’s desire for companionship.

The pandemic lockdowns meant many people weren’t able to travel to meet their potential new pet in person but were unfortunately willing to take the risk.

Data provided to CHOICE by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) showed losses from pet scams increased more than 1,000 per cent, going from just over $375,000 in 2019 to more than $4.2 million last year.

“It's an incredible trajectory that shows no sign of slowing down,” CHOICE said.

“Australians have already lost over $1.2 million to pet scams in the first four months of this year, a figure that's 37.5 per cent higher than the same period last year.”

The ACCC said most scams involved dogs (especially puppies), with cavoodles and other poodle breeds the most common in fake listings.

But promises of cats and kittens have also appeared to fleece prospective pet owners, with the ACCC reporting the Maine Coon breed were commonly featured on bogus pet sites.

Criminologist and associate professor at Queensland University of Technology's School of Justice, Cassandra Cross, told CHOICE the success of pet scams came from the fact that buying a pet was an "emotional decision" which defrauders could easily take advantage of.

"With ongoing lockdowns, people were looking for company, and the numbers of available pets reduced,” Cross said.

"The desire to purchase a pet, the significant period of lockdown experienced by some across the country, and the scarcity of genuine animals all collided to create an effective opportunity for offenders to successfully exploit."

How to spot and avoid a pet scam

There are a few things to look out for when purchasing a pet online.

Doing a reverse Google image search can allow potential customers to check if the photo has been copied from another source.

Likewise, check customer testimonials If the same testimonial has been used word-for-word from a different site, this could also be a sign it is a scam.

The ACCC advises buyers not to pay for an animal without seeing it first – either in person or over a live video chat – and to avoid retailers asking for payment via money order or wire transfer.

The ACCC also said anyone who believed they had given personal information or money to a scammer should contact their bank or financial institution as soon as possible.

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