Finding companionship in the company of a dog has been a popular coping mechanism for many suffering the effects of social isolation.
And while most people are turning to reputable shelters, breeders and rescue organisations, there are many that have become targets to scammers.
According to scamwatch.gov.au, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's website dedicated to informing people about fraudulent and dishonest activities, Australians have lost nearly $300,000 to puppy scams this year, and scammers have been particularly targeting those seeking a furry companion during social isolation.
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The site has seen a recent spike in puppy scams and in April reports were almost five times higher than the average, with losses on track to exceed the 2019 total of $360,000.
A lot of people are stuck at home and going online to buy a pet to help them get through the loneliness of social isolation, ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
Unfortunately the rush to get a new pet and the unusual circumstances of COVID-19 makes it harder to work out whats real or a scam.
Scammers set up fake websites or ads on online classifieds and social media pretending to sell sought-after dog breeds and will take advantage of the fact that you cant travel to meet the puppy in person.
The scammer will usually ask for up-front payments via money transfer to pay for the pet and transport it to you.
Once you have paid the initial deposit, the scammer will find new ways to ask for more money, and scammers are now using the COVID-19 pandemic to claim higher transportation costs to get across closed interstate borders or additional fees for coronavirus treatments, Ms Rickard said.
Unfortunately once you make the payments, the seller will cease all contact.
The most common breeds reported were Cavoodles and French Bulldogs and most people contacted the scammers via an email address they found online.
The safest option is to only buy or adopt a pet you can meet in person and if you cannot do that during the current lockdown restrictions, consider putting the search on hold, Ms Rickard said.
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Scam websites can look quite convincing, so try not to fall for the adorable puppy pictures they post, and remember, if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Research the seller by running an internet search using the exact wording in the ad and do a reverse image search for pictures of the specific puppy, as youre likely to be dealing with a scammer if you find matching images or text on multiple websites, Ms Rickard said.
If you are in doubt, seek advice from a reputable breeders association, vet or local pet shop.
So far this year Scamwatch has received more than 2,000 reports about COVID-19 scams and reported losses are now more than $700,000.
If you think you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution as soon as possible, Ms Rickard said.
Have you been a victim of a recent scam?
Australian Community Media is interested in publishing first-hand accounts from those who have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous operators.
If you're interested in sharing your story as a warning to others, contact Anna Wolf at email@example.com or by clicking here.