What’s pet scam?

The rise of online transactions, particularly in massive growth since the appearance of COVID-19, brings its wind of advantages and disadvantages. Indeed, many fraudsters seized this opportunity to carry out new traps for consumers. One fraud that is, unfortunately, becoming very popular is pet scam. We are talking about sales of cats, dogs, and other pets without actually intending to deliver the pet in question. These scammers sell petss with attractive pictures on their internet pages, take deposit payments, and disappear. In some countries, such as the United States, Australia or South Africa, it is common to buy pets online due to their size, so buyers reserve their petsentirely on the internet before picking them up. With the pandemic, several sellers worldwide have decided to no longer offer pre-visits to buyers for health reasons. This new way of shopping for pets entirely online creates a unique criminal opportunity for fraudsters.

Due to this increase in pet scam cases, researchers Whittaker and Button (2020) devoted their study to explore this phenomenon. Specifically, this study uses real pet scam instances identified through www.petscams.com, an organization aimed at preventing this type of fraud and listing past cases. The organization has more than 18,000 cases of false sales and false deliveries of animals. Victims are invited to leave comments to share their stories on the website. The researchers conducted qualitative analyses of the content of these publications in collaboration with the organization. The collection period began on May 1, 2017, until March 31, 2020. They thus collected hundreds of cases of this type of fraud.

To analyze the victims’ experiences, they codified each of the victims’ comments using themes.

After diligently analyzing the contents, the researchers made observations illustrating how fraudsters organize the scams and their techniques to catch these victims. Briefly, most complainants are from the United States, with a smaller portion from Australia and South Africa. The breed of dog that appears to have been used the most to catch casualties is the Bulldog, followed by the Pomeranian, Poodle, Pug, and Corgi.

The authors have thus determined the modus operandi of the fraudsters summarized as follows:

  1. The initial payment “The hook”: Victims make the first payment without seeing the pet in person or on video conference. Victims typically rely on their “gut feeling,” the website’s legitimate appearance, and the credibility of the photo of the pet being promoted on the page.
  2. A second payment, “The sting”: Fraudsters ask victims to pay a more considerable amount of money to supposedly pay for the pet’s delivery, which suddenly costs more than initially expected. Fraudsters will use manipulation techniques and bet on the “urgency” of the situation, for example, by expressing that they must pay additional fees if they want to prevent their pet from suffering extreme heat in the standard delivery where the temperature is not controlled. A new modus operandi emerged almost simultaneously with the pandemic caused by COVID-19. In the case of pet scam, fraudsters have invented additional charges to “make sure” the animal gets to its destination or justify the use of virtual currency for payment.

These results make it possible to portray pet scam better and increase vigilance in this type of scam. The authors specify the importance of prevention and organizations like PetsScam.com to help and support consumers who are victims of fraud.

tTo cite: Whittaker, JM. & Button, M. (2020). Understanding pet scams: A case study of advance fee and non-delivery fraud using victims’ accounts. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 53, 497-514.