Inside the puppy scam that’s ripping off Aussie families
An alarming number of criminals are duping families into buying puppies that never arrive during the coronavirus pandemic, a senior police officer has warned.
NSW Police has already received more than 170 reports of pet scams and made multiple arrests this year, a big spike compared to previous years with fraudsters posing as genuine breeders and asking customers seeking companionship during restrictions to pay upfront.
Financial Crimes Squad Commander Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett said offenders had found a niche market with rising puppy prices combined with customers not wanting to leave their homes to inspect the animals.
"They go on Facebook or Gumtree and they think they're buying a pet, they transfer the money and the pet never arrives - that's basically it in a nutshell," she said.
"What we've been told and what we're actually seeing is dogs are actually going for double, triple the price.
"For instance, I've got a Maltese Shihtzu, I saw one online for sale the other day for $2500, when I bought mine it was $250.
"People have identified a niche market with COVID-19, people can't go and look at the dogs."
At least two men have been arrested over puppy scams this year, including a 24-year-old from Harrington Park in Sydney's west who is accused of fraudulently obtaining money by selling "puppies" on 11 separate occasions.
He is due to appear in Blacktown Local Court next month.
Another 35-year-old man from Waratah West in Newcastle is alleged to have fraudulently obtained money for the sale of puppies on four occasions.
Detective Superintendent Howlett said the most common breeds criminals had been using photos of when duping victims were French bulldogs, Labradors and Cavoodles.
In some cases offenders have stolen identities to create false bank accounts before asking customers to transfer the money as a deposit or to pay upfront before the animal arrives.
Once the cash is transferred into an account it is sometimes shipped offshore, making it extremely difficult for Australian authorities to trace.
Detective Superintendent Howlett said puppy scam offenders were preying on lonely people's vulnerability during a time of heightened stress, calling it a "disgraceful act".
"There's a lot of pets out there that need genuine owners and it's just really tragic that people are actually getting ripped off," she said.
"We're in a difficult situation across the world with COVID-19, you'd think we'd be a little more compassionate towards each other.
"Frankly, it's a disgraceful act, people are losing money over it, which a lot of them can ill afford because a lot of people don't have the same employment opportunities they had in the past.
"They're cowards behind a computer. If you're out there scamming members of the community, it's only a matter of time before we find you and arrest you."
Detective Superintendent Howlett urged people to research online before handing over money because fraudsters often re-used photos of the same puppies and encouraged people to instead look for pets at the RSPCA or pet rescue services.
"If it sounds too good to be true don't transfer money," she said.
"There are a lot of lonely people out there.
"In the past they could go out and meet people socialising in pubs, clubs and restaurants, but all of those services have been reduced now and people want companionship and they're lonely so they're actually looking for a pet."
Barbara Broughton, a breeder from Bellbird in the Hunter Valley who is raising Labrador puppies, said prospective buyers needed to be careful.
"It's buyer beware - people really need to do their research and check breeders are genuine breeders," she said. "People are welcome to come and see my pups once they're three weeks old."
Originally published as Inside the puppy scam that's ripping off Aussie families