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Families left heartbroken and out hundreds of dollars with surge in pandemic pet scams

Day 4: 12 Scams of Christmas
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Posted at 6:01 AM, Dec 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-10 08:19:07-05

BALTIMORE — Less than a month after losing her precious Toby, Donna Lippa was hoping to ease the pain with a new puppy.

“I recently had to put my baby down, he was 13. And I was looking, it’s hard to find a Shih Tzu now with the pandemic and everything, so I was looking on websites. I came across this one website called Kison Shih Tzus,” said Lippa.

She fell in love with a puppy named Vixen. She reached out to the seller and was told she could have Vixen within a few days.

“So I sent them $620 and he immediately said he was going to go get the paperwork done to have the dog registered to fly,” Lippa said.

A couple of hours later, Lippa received an email from the seller.

“They need an extra $900 for a climate-controlled crate because of COVID and it’s an animal,” Lippa said.

She sent the money, then a few hours later, she received another email.

“We need an additional $500 for your dog to come into your state, it was called a city permit and then I said, ‘Hmm, that doesn’t seem right,’” Lippa recalled.

She came to the realization that it was a scam and told the seller she’s done sending him money.

“We immediately went back on their website and their website was down. All the tracking information was gone. I called Venmo, they said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t give you your funds back. There are no funds in this guy’s account, he took them right out,’” said Lippa.

Puppy scams have surged during the pandemic. Just this year, the Better Business Bureau has received more than 3,000 scam reports.

“COVID, the holidays, isolation, the desire to just have company, people are opening up their homes to order dogs online,” said Angie Barnett, president and CEO with the BBB serving greater Maryland.

The BBB is encouraging pet owners to adopt locally, but if your heart is set on a purebred, take the photo of the dog and run it through a search engine to see if it’s posted anywhere else.

“Take the description of the dog, cut, paste, put that in your web browser and see how many other websites come up,” said Barnett.

Research the business address, contact information, ask a lot of questions, and request documentation.

“It’s heartbreaking when you’ve spent this money expecting something to bring joy into your house and that’s one thing Santa just doesn’t deliver,” Barnett said.

The website Kison Shih Tzus is active. WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii contacted the seller and was told Vixen is still available for $500. When she identified herself and asked for an interview, the seller stopped responding.

For more information on how to find reputable breeders, click here to see The American Kennel Club’s recommendations.