Action News Investigation: Pandemic puppy scams on the rise: Here's what you should know

ABINGTON TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- The Better Business Bureau is warning that puppy scams have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities say the scams are hard to spot and it could be easy to fall victim.

Sara Cecchini knows all too well how costly it could be. She told Action News she fell victim while searching for a puppy for her daughter.

"I did some research online and found a website that looked totally legitimate," she said.

Cecchini connected with who she thought was a breeder on the website amazinanimalspetshop.com. When Cecchini logged on she was quickly in touch with an online representative.

It all seemed legitimate. The online chat was followed by a phone call. After searching the site she chose a dog named Titan and told the breeder she would need a week to get her house ready.

SEE ALSO: Looking for a pet online? Don't get scammed!

"So I said, 'Can you hold him?' He said, 'Okay, but I need you to put down a deposit,'" recalled Cecchini.

She obliged and paid $400 via Venmo.

"He said, 'Okay, I need the other $500 because we need to register him to your county and change ownership and book the flight of the dog,'" added Cecchini.

Cecchini paid but a couple of hours later she said she got a call.

"I get a call from a random phone number and says we need another thousand dollars for pet insurance for this flight," she said.

The caller gave her a flight number for the dog from Houston, Texas where the company was located.

Again, Cecchini paid it. The company even went an extra step and sent a video of the puppy in a crate at the airport on the conveyer. But the dog never came and her daughter Peyton, was heartbroken.

"It's unfortunate because she was so excited," said Cecchini. "We were getting a new puppy and she expected the puppy to be there on Wednesday night and she comes home and the puppy is not there."

When the puppy didn't show she made calls to find out why. That's when she was told she would need to pay an additional $500 for city permits.

Realizing she been duped she drew the line. "I said 'You're a fraud. You're a scam,'" said Cecchini.

The scam cost her $1,900.

Action News contacted the company through its website and almost immediately a representative was chatting online. We asked them to call us.

"I am an investigator with the ABC News in Philadelphia and we are calling on behalf of Sara Cecchini," said investigative reporter Chad Pradelli.

Pradelli asked, "What happened with that dog and why did you steal $1,900?"

The person on the other end told us to call the cops. So we did.

Abington police told us they suspect this was a scam operating outside the country and that there is little they can do.

Derek Huntington with Capital Pet Movers relocates and ships pets around the world.

"So it's a tricky thing and consumers have to be very careful online when trying to purchase a pet," he said.

Huntington said pet scams are pervasive.

"We always recommend getting over to the American Kennel Club website. Most breeders are members of the American Kennel Club.

Since our call, amazinanimalspetshop.com is offline. Not in time for Cecchini who learned a costly lesson. But, fortunately, a local breeder helped add a cuddly addition to the family.

Cecchini has this warning, "Be careful."
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