The Investigators: Mid-Southerners losing thousands buying products on fake websites, purchasing puppies that never arrive

The Investigators: Online purchase scams skyrocket during pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The 2020 holiday shopping season will largely take place online as the COVID-19 pandemic continues for the foreseeable future.

However, from purses to puppies, there are scams for every gift that’s on your list.

A Memphis biology teacher wanted to gift her younger sister a Yorkshire-Terrier for her upcoming birthday.

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“Yorkies are really passionate dogs and they love you to the fullest,” Kaiya Pruitt told The WMC Action News 5 Investigators.

Pruitt has two Yorkies of her own and found one of them on Craigslist so that’s where she went to shop for a new four-legged friend.

When Pruitt found an ad for a 3-month-old Yorkie who needed a new home, she thought it was the perfect opportunity. She began texting with the person who posted the ad -- a man who called himself Jacob.

However, the story about why the Yorkie needed a new home changed over text.

Pruitt grew suspicious and asked over text, “Is there any way you can verify this transaction?”

Jacob wrote, “I swear this on my family and kids - this is legit. I’m a Christian and that’s awful of my religion.”

“I was still skeptical,” said Pruitt. “But I thought, OK I’m a Christian as well. I should not be so judgmental right now. I should be more trusting.”

Pruitt sent Jacob $250 and she agreed to send more when the dog arrived from out of state. The dog never came.

“This is when I knew this was a scam,” she said.

Pruitt called the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

“They told me it could’ve been so much worse. People typically give more and more and more,” said Pruitt.

“People are hungry are for companionship. They’re buying dogs, they want dogs,” said Daniel Irwin, who does research and investigations for the Mid-South BBB.

He says puppy scams are one of the most common scams in our area.

The Bureau has received 41 puppy scam reports in the Mid-South so far this year for a total loss of $19,548. There were ten puppy scam reports last year that came with a loss of $4,132.

“Oftentimes the scammer will string you along. They’ll say ‘OK, we know you’ve paid $1,400 but now we need another $900 for shipping.’”

That’s what happened to one Mid-South woman who wrote the BBB; she thought she had purchased a pug but was then contacted by a company who said she needed to send more money to cover shipping for the dog.

“I am out $300 for the pug”, she wrote. “and they wanted me to pay another $1,000 for vaccines and a crate.”

“Scammers will continue to go that well until it runs dry. They’ll continue to scam you until you realize it’s a scam,” said Irwin.

If you think you’re safe trying to find a puppy through a Google search -- think again. The BBB says 80% of sponsored Google ad results for puppies are scams.

“You can’t do a search without a fraudulent website coming up,” said Irwin.

Puppy scams fall under the online purchase scam category, which has skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The BBB’s Scam Tracker map, which shows scams by type and location, reveals dozens of online purchase scam reports in the Mid-South.

“I have been looking for Lysol to protect my kids,” another Mid-South scam victim wrote the BBB.

She found the products on a legitimate website but the seller on that site told her, “the website due to COVID-19 traffic was malfunctioning so I needed to work directly with him….I needed Lysol and I believed what he was saying so I agreed.”

The Memphis woman lost $575 for cleaning products that never arrived.

The BBB says online purchase scams are among the top three riskiest. Victims are mostly between ages 35 and 44 years old.

No matter your age, to protect yourself from online scammers the BBB states:

  • If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is so don’t move forward
  • Professional photos do not mean a real offer
  • Research before you buy: look up the website you’re on via Google or on BBB.org
  • Beware of fake websites: watch for bad grammar, search for contact information and read online reviews

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