Taking the Bite Out of Puppy Scams

How to Buy a Puppy Without Being Duped by Puppy Scams and a New BBB Phishing Scam: Internet ScamBusters #235

Last month a rash of reports hit national newspapers about people who lost money to a new kind of fraud: puppy scams.

Who can resist a sad-eyed puppy? Think of "Benji" and "Shilo" and of course the quintessential "Lassie."

But puppy love is exactly what makes these cute little fellas the perfect bait for this new breed of scam artists. We'll tell you what to look for when buying a puppy from an out-of-town seller and how to avoid getting bitten by a thief.

We'll also tell you about a particularly dangerous phishing email now making the rounds that is supposedly from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

As always, we also recommend you check out the most popular articles from our other sites during the past week:

Can Frequent Credit Card Use Lead to Identity Theft? Find out how credit card company enticements for frequent credit card use can put your identity at risk.

Summer Fun that Won't Break the Bank: These kid-friendly, summer projects will let you enjoy each other's company while saving money at the same time.

Has Your Credit Card Company Helped You Lately? Learn more about how new credit card improvements can affect your life.

Would You Have A Fire Extinguisher Available If an Emergency Occurred? Having a fire extinguisher in your home and car should be at the top of your To Do list.

Let's get started with today's topics...


Taking the Bite Out of Puppy Scams


Puppy scammers hustle money from their victims by promising to send them a dog that oftentimes doesn't exist.

Two Variants of the Puppy Scam

In one version of the scheme, the scam artist posts an ad in a newspaper or news website for a puppy he will give away free to a loving home. All you have to do to help the poor little pooch is pay the $400 shipping cost. Victims send the money -- but their puppy never arrives.

One such scammer even claimed he and his wife were traveling missionaries who could not keep their new litter of English bulldog puppies! He conversed with one victim for a week and sent pictures of the healthy pups.

In a second version of the ruse, the scam artist poses as a breeder who promises a purebred puppy for a deeply discounted price. The unsuspecting dog lover can't believe her good fortune. A purebred Yorkie -- which goes for $3000 at the local pet store -- can be hers for just $400.

The payment is sent, but once again the puppy that so tugged at the hopeful owner's heartstrings never arrives.

Scam artists copy puppy photos from the websites of legitimate breeders to use in their ads. Some even set up an entire phony website, often using a stolen credit card, to make themselves appear to be successful business owners.

In an alarming trend, a large number of puppy scam artists have emerged from "breeders" in overseas locations like Nigeria, making prosecution more difficult.

Victims usually receive contact only through email and are asked to send payment via a Western Union wire transfer or money order. This is a favorite payment method for scam artists because the money can't be recovered.

Be suspicious of any deal that sounds too good to be true -- it probably is.

Puppy Scams: What to Do

If you have your heart set on ordering a puppy advertised over the Internet, here are four tips that will help you stay safe:

1. Beware of anyone offering ridiculously discounted prices, especially if they won't speak with you on the phone. Confirm a breeder's name, phone number and address. Legitimate breeders may be traced in directories such as Whitepages.com. (However, scammers often give pre-paid cell phone numbers, so getting a phone number is no guarantee that a breeder is legitimate.)

2. Look out for someone who promises to deliver a puppy within 24 hours. Most breeds need to be eight weeks old before they can travel, making it unlikely a buyer could get a purebred with such a quick turnaround time.

3. Ask for -- and carefully check -- references. Talk to the dog's vet and to other people who have bought puppies from the breeder.

4. Be suspicious of a seller who only accepts wire payments or money orders. Use a payment method that offers fraud protection, such as a credit card.

Finally, if you think you've been the victim of a puppy scam, contact your state attorney general or the U.S. Secret Service Office for Internet fraud.

For another common puppy scam, check out the second story about the overpayment scam in a past issue.


Sinister BBB Phishing Email Making the Rounds


We want to warn you about a new, fairly sophisticated phishing email, supposedly from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), that is now making the rounds.

This email claims that someone has lodged a BBB complaint against your business. It is highly tailored to the recipient, and looks very similar to the actual complaint notices the BBB normally sends.

If you click on the link to download the supposed "case documents" in the complaint, it will download a malicious keylogger program to your computer, such as Trojan BHO.

For more on keylogger programs, check out the first item on keylogger programs on our site.

This phishing Trojan attempts to collect all interactive data, including passwords, banking data, other website login info, etc.

According to SecureWorks.com, as of May 25, there have been 1,400 victims of this scam, and it continues. In fact, there are now variants that claim to be from the IRS instead of the BBB.

Only computers that use Windows with Internet Explorer are currently vulnerable (which is another reason to use the Firefox browser instead).

Actions: As we just mentioned, use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer. And of course, follow our previous advice on not clicking on the links of phishing emails.

That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.

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