Consumers warned about new breed of online scam

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Dog-lovers are being warned about a new breed of online scammer, tugging on the heartstrings of Australians who want to buy cute puppies.

Scamwatch has reported almost 600 incidents of scams involving puppies in the last 12 months, costing unsuspecting consumers more than $310,000.

“Puppy scammers play on people’s emotions who have their heart set on a particular breed. Once they see that cute puppy picture in an ad, they drop their guard and tend to miss the warning signs that they’re dealing with a scammer,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.

“Scammers will advertise puppies they know are sought after, particularly pedigree breeds. Reports to Scamwatch show that the majority of people have been contacted by scammers via email or online through classified sites and even social media.”

People in the 25–34 age group reported losing the most money to this scam and women are three times more likely than men to get caught out by these scams, Scamwatch says.

A key sign you may be dealing with a puppy scammer is in the stories they spin. For example, scammers will often claim that they have moved interstate or overseas and that you will need to pay for transport or medical costs before the puppy can be delivered. Another common lie involves a scammer claiming that the puppy is overseas and it can’t be delivered unless a payment is made due to customs or quarantine issues.

“If you hear these tales from a ‘seller’, stop all communication with them. The puppy, sadly, isn’t real and if you make those payments, you’ll lose your money,” Ms Rickard said.

Ms Rickard said there were some important tips people can follow to protect themselves from puppy scammers.

“Most important is that old saying: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it probably is’. Scammers will place ads selling pedigree pups at cheap prices. Don’t fall for it.

“Don’t believe the ad is legitimate just because you see it on reputable websites, social media or even your favourite newspapers.

“It’s also worth doing an internet search using the exact wording in the ad. Scammers get lazy and use the same wording over and over again. People are good at sharing intel like this online to save others from getting caught.

“Finally, if you are in doubt, seek advice from someone in the industry such as a reputable breeders association, vet or local pet shop.”

Other online scams to be wary of

While more and more Australian consumers head online to do their shopping, the number of scams reported has also increased significantly.

Scamwatch has also warned Aussies about overseas missed call scams. In these scams, a scammer will call you and hang up without leaving a message, so a missed call will appear on your phone from an international number. If you call the number back, you may be put on hold, hear music playing or the scammer could try and chat with you. The scammer’s objective is to keep you on the line for as long as possible as your call will be charged at a premium rate.

Meanwhile the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that Valentine’s Day has become a key date for online scammers, with statistics showing that people are most likely to be preyed upon by dating and romance scammers on social media sites at this time. Australians reported losses of $20.5 million to Scamwatch from dating and romance scams in 2017, with more than 3,700 reports.

Energy bill scams have also become common in Australia, with retailers including Origin, AGL and EnergyAustralia all affected in recent times, with scammers sending emails that look like genuine bills. Clicking on a link provided could lead to the scammer gaining access to your personal information and banking details.

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