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How to spot a pet-buying scam

Steph MarshAlbany Advertiser
Steph Marsh is the senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.
Camera IconSteph Marsh is the senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. Credit: Supplied

Cute photos of puppies and kittens have been used by scammers for years to dupe prospective pet buyers out of their hard-earned money and it’s only getting worse.

In Western Australia last year, our WA ScamNet team received 114 reports of pet scams, with 75 victims losing more than $216,000 — a threefold increase on both the losses and victim numbers reported five years earlier in 2017.

Most pet scams begin with online searches for animal breeders or advertisements that appear on online marketplaces and social media with images or videos often stolen from legitimate websites.

Although the ad may suggest the seller is local, when contacted they will say they are outside WA or located remotely and the animal needs to be transported.

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This tactic is used to get you to pay more money for fake shipping fees, airfares or travel insurance.

The biggest red flag that you’re dealing with a scammer is the method of payment, with money sent via bank transfer unlikely to be recovered.

Don’t be fooled by Australian bank account details either, as scammers are known to use money mules to look more legitimate.

For this reason, we recommend only paying via credit card or a secure payment platform such as PayPal as there’s potential to get your money back if the animal never turns up.

Other warning signs are limited contact, no address details on the website and false claims of being a registered breeder that can easily be verified.

With so many downsides to buying a pet online, it is generally safer for consumers to shop locally so they can personally inspect the animal and meet its owner.

Consider going through legitimate breeding organisations such as Dogs West or the Cat Owners Association to verify breeder information and registered contact details, or give serious thought to adopting through a shelter or rescue centre.

Prospective pet owners can check the new consumer’s guide to buying a pet on our website for handy tips on how to identify genuine sellers.

If you have doubts about an online transaction, call WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54 or email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au for advice. Report scams to scamnet.wa.gov.au

Steph Marsh is the senior regional officer for Great Southern, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

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