Australia is suffering a wave of puppy scams as fraudsters target the lonely and locked down with fake online offers of cavoodles, French bulldogs and other popular pooches, authorities said.
The consumer watchdog ACCC said the scammers fleeced people looking for a new pet out of some Aus$300,000 (US$196,000) in April alone, fives times higher than the normal monthly average.
"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 what's real or a scam."
With restrictions on travel making it harder for people to see dogs in-person, scammers will often ask for upfront payments to cover transport and then disappear, Rickard said.
"Unfortunately once you make the payments, the seller will cease all contact."
In a statement released this week, the ACCC said cavoodles and French bulldogs were among the most popular breeds used to lure potential puppy owners.
It comes amid a soaring demand for pets during the pandemic with RSPCA New South Wales reporting a dramatic rise in adoption and foster inquiries last month.
"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," Rickard said.
The amount lost to puppy scams in the first four months of 2020 has almost reached the total lost across all of 2019 while Aussies have lost Aus$700,000 (US$456,000) to virus-related scams so far this year.
© 2020 AFP