Ruthless scammers are impersonating corporations amid a boom in pet-related fraud, with industry professionals saying they are powerless to stop them.
According to new data provided to Choice by the ACCC, Australians lost a record amount to pet-related scams in 2021, with COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbating the problem.
Scammers raised $4.2 million from pet-related fraud in 2021, an increase of more than 1,000% since the pandemic began.
Two Pet Business Owners Said The new daily that scammers use their images, branding and likeness on social media to defraud their existing customers online.
They said identity theft is common and “so damaging”, with little they can do to stop heartless scammers in their tracks.
The number of pet-related scams reported to the ACCC has increased by more than 500% during the pandemic.
There were 3,332 complaints filed in 2021, compared to just 498 in 2019.
According to the ACCC, the majority of scams involved puppies and kittens, with fake listings appearing on “fake pet sites”.
Carolynne May, a purebred ragdoll breeder based in Victoria, said several scammers have tried to defraud her customers over the years.
Ms May, who runs Mayflower Ragdolls Cats and Kittens, primarily uses Facebook to announce the birth of a new litter.
Pedigree ragdoll kittens can sell for between $1,000 and $3,000, with scammers hoping to make a pretty penny.
She said scammers had used her business name and pictures of her kittens three times (to her knowledge) in an attempt to lure customers.
A Facebook page appeared in August 2021 called “Timmy’s ragdolls”, which claimed to sell kittens from his business.
The post included various keywords and the names of other breeders, which Ms May says is a deliberate effort to get their post to the top of Facebook search results.
“They’ll just tag anything they can think of to do with the cats, including breeders and everything. And all different races too, not just ragdolls,” she said.
“They’ll put any race they can think of in the comments. So when people search, they see their posts. »
The “Timmy’s ragdolls” account has since been deleted from Facebook.
Ms May said there has “definitely” been an increase in pet breeding scams she has seen during the pandemic.
Particularly during COVID-19 closures, when breeders have struggled to keep up with demand.
“During COVID [lockdowns]people were desperate for a pet, so they fell in love with these things.
She said she knew of a client who fell for a fraudulent page posing as her business.
“I had a girlfriend who contacted me. She goes, ‘Is this your kitten?’ And someone in Brisbane had put my kitten up for sale,’ she said.
“It’s amazing what they’re going to do.”
The owner of a Melbourne-based animal photography business said The new daily they had a similar experience.
Megan O’Hehir Pet Photography in Melbourne sounded the alarm in June when she discovered an account had impersonated her and contacted her clients directly.
Ms O’Hehir had held a competition in which her followers could win a pet photography studio session.
However, just a day after their contest launched, a fake account had started messaging the company’s Facebook followers directly, directing them to a link.
“This scammer appeared to be removing images from our business page and creating a profile with the images,” Ms O’Hehir said.
“They must have misspelled [our] account name because it was already in use. They also had to use a personal profile instead of creating a page, for the same reason.
Fortunately, several of Ms. O’Hehir’s followers alerted her to the scam within an hour, and she was able to notify her followers and report the page to Facebook.
“We hope to hold another competition in the future, but we will make a few more changes to try to prevent scammers from spoiling what should be an enjoyable event,” she said.
Even outside of COVID lockdowns, pet scams seem to be in full force.
Choice and the ACCC said Australians lost more than $1.2 million to pet scams in the first four months of 2022, up 37.5% from the same period last year.
Ms May said Facebook needed to do more to hold scammers accountable.
She said Facebook is going after breeders on the platform, rather than taking action against fraudulent pages.
“We are not allowed to sell animals on Facebook,” she said.
“We can publish our photos and things like that. But the minute we put ‘available’ or something, we’re closed.
It’s unclear whether Facebook has rules in place to prevent scammers from creating fake profiles, or guidelines in place that prevent the sale of pets on the platform.
Facebook was unable to respond to The new dailyit is request for comments in time for publication.
Ms O’Hehir said the scammers were “so damaging” to small businesses and their customers.
“Scammers are increasingly finding ways to replicate legitimate business pages and scam activity has increased during COVID,” she said.
“It’s disappointing and so damaging to legitimate small businesses.”
How to spot a scam
If you’re looking to adopt a four-legged friend online, the RSPCA advises prospective pet owners to pay attention to the following:
- Check the age of the animal: No reputable seller will rehom a puppy or kitten before it is eight weeks old. At this age, they will not be fully weaned and will have a weakened immune system
- ‘Delivery can be arranged: No reputable breeder should be willing to part with their animals without first meeting the new owners. Meet your pet in person before making a purchase
- ‘Parents DNA tested’: Breeders often claim that their pets have been DNA tested. But unless proof of DNA testing is provided and the diseases being tested are known to be associated with this breed, that doesn’t mean much. It’s best to research the specific breed you’re looking for thoroughly (including talking to a veterinarian) to help you identify the type of DNA test to look for.
- Limited information: Be concerned if the advertisement does not tell you, for example, whether the animal is microchipped or not; whether he is desexed or not; and how it was raised or obtained. Lack of information may indicate a dodgy seller who is hoping you don’t notice the absence of important facts.