The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an increase in the number of people seeking out a new canine companion to help them cope with the isolation and anxiety related to the pandemic. This has seen a spike in the number of puppy scams reported, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch, reporting that Australian’s have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to puppy scams this year.

Scamwatch reported that in the month of April 2020 alone, there was a spike in puppy scams almost five times higher than the average. Using the pandemic as a backdrop, scammers have set up fake websites and online advertisements pretending to sell sought-after dog breeds, whilst asking for upfront payments to secure puppy purchases, and taking advantage of the fact that prospective pet owners are unable to travel to meet a potential new puppy in person due to the travel restrictions which have been in place because of the pandemic.

“A lot of people are stuck at home and going online to buy a pet to help them get through the loneliness of social isolation. Unfortunately, the rush to get a new pet and the unusual circumstances of COVID-19 makes it harder to work out what’s real or a scam”, said ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard.

“Once you have paid the initial deposit, the scammer will find new ways to ask for more money, and scammers are now using the COVID-19 pandemic to claim higher transportation costs to get across closed interstate borders or additional fees for ‘coronavirus treatments’. The safest option is to only buy or adopt a pet you can meet in person and if you cannot do that during the current lockdown restrictions, consider putting the search on hold”, said Ms Rickard.

Pet owners are being encouraged to research both the type of breed that they may be considering as a pet, and to also seek out reputable breeders and pet adoption organisations to purchase from. 

Veterinarians are also well placed to provide advice on what type of pet may suit the person’s lifestyle and circumstances, along with highlighting potential health issues to be aware of with particular dog breeds. 

People who think they may have fallen victim to a pet scam, are encouraged to check out the Scamwatch website for further guidance and information.