Blowing the (dog) whistle on pet scams


Last week our team confirmed that the SPCA has real puppies currently available for adoption. This pup is included. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Our reporters can confirm that the internet is filled with puppies, but it’s hard to tell if any of them are real. Though we have used careful data analysis to create a scam ‘pedigree’, our team cannot prove for certain that all of these sites are scams. Despite testimonies of people losing large amounts of money with no puppy in return, journalistically we need confirmation from the police to confirm a case of fraud. What we have done is suggested a link between these sites, of which a number have been reported as potential scams.

Following up on last week’s story of the local couple who lost R30 000 (‘Couple’s fake puppy heartbreak’ – GM 8 March 2019), SAPS Spokesperson Captain Mali Govender confirmed that a case of fraud had been opened for investigation. “No arrests have been made,” she said. “The community are cautioned on online fraud that is taking place. More innocent victims are getting trapped into scams.”

“Be cautious of online sites selling pets,” Govender said.

She elaborated, saying that various breeds of puppies were often advertised as being available immediately. Photographs of the non-existent puppies were posted; however, these were not original and had been downloaded from the internet.

“A full payment is requested immediately. Communication is done through a WhatsApp, Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo account,” Govender said.

“As soon as payment is made, another payment is requested for the courier company, then it’s more requests for payments for either storage, or a medical condition that requires thee animal to b kept in quarantine. After more deposits are made, the victim cannot get hold of the caller and no pet has been received.”

The investigation of these cases was extremely complex, Govender said.

“Most of the bank details and email addresses are often untraceable. They are opened for a short period and closed off after transactions are made. Names furnished and supplied are false. The  Cyber Unit of the SAPS are engaged and assist with these investigations.”

The Kennel Union of Southern Africa (KUSA) are affected by the pet scams, as many of these sites fraudulently use the KUSA logo to attract potential clients. Gerard Robinson, a member of KUSA’s Federal Council told Grocott’s Mail that these scams had been around for years, and despite warnings to prospective buyers, people still fall victim.

“Calls to elicit advice from KUSA regarding online purchases of puppies are few,” said Robinson. “If and when calls are received to check on the legitimacy of a website, we normally caution the caller to proceed with the utmost caution before purchasing a puppy online. Sadly, the majority of the calls received about scams are after they’ve happened.”

Robinson said KUSA encouraged these callers to report to SAPS as well as the fraud division of the bank concerned. 

In the case of unauthorised or inappropriate use of KUSA’s logo, Robinson said steps were taken to demand its removal. “It’s often an exercise in futility,” he said, “since the scam sites are frequently hosted in foreign countries which fall outside the ambit of South African law enforcement.

“I think that it’s important to understand that people who fall prey to puppy scammers are normally impulse buyers”, said Robinson. “They invariably turn to the Web and their eagerness is fertile ground for scammers. Normally these operators will have just the kind of puppy available that the person is looking for and the transaction is concluded in haste, normally using the tactic that there are a number of people waiting in line.

“Once the money has been transferred, all communication ceases.

“It is the worst idea in the world to purchase a puppy without having seen it, preferably both its parents and the environment in which it was raised,” said Robinson.

For more information about pet scams visit KUSA’s website.

Grocott’s Mail will continue to report.

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