Press paws on the new pet and avoid being scammed


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That exotic bird could be a ruse to get into your bank account

The barbecue stopper these days, apart from roaring house prices, is who tried to scam you this week, via landline, text, email, iPod, iPhone, internet or even a pamphlet in your letterbox.

Some scams are blatant but many are so cleverly structured that you are caught off guard, or they are worded to stir your curiosity so that you take the hook and find out more about the "offer". So you hand over personal information to someone you don't know before you realise you have fallen for a trick. And the scammer won't waste any time separating you from your money.

Always the aim is to get money out of you in some way, either directly, by asking you for it, or craftily by convincing you to provide enough personal information - such as bank or credit account details - for the scammer to get into your account and help themselves to your funds before you can contact your bank or card issuer to alert them to possible fraud.

Some scams don't even look vaguely like one and really pull on your or your family's heartstrings. According to over 150 complaints recorded by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the gorgeous puppy or kitten looking for a new home is a classic.

The adorable golden retriever puppy on your screen will cost you only $350. He's purebred and normally costs three times that amount. He has soulful eyes that melt your heart. The ad says he is chipped and registered and the owner regrets having to sell him but has no choice due to travel plans or a job relocation. You and your family instantly fall in love with the image and are ready to pick up your bargain immediately. Alas, you can't.

The aim of this scam is to persuade you to pay to have the puppy transported to your home. Sometimes you will be told that the puppy is about to be vaccinated and the cost of that is added to the upfront sum asked. The ACCC says other pets can also be used, including birds. Macaws seem to be a particular favourite.

The seller may tell you they unexpectedly had to move interstate or overseas or is about to marry and their partner is allergic to dogs or cats. They also make sure through clever questioning that you are not nearby and can't call in and view the dog. One of the first questions you will be asked is where you live to establish this. Payment is generally requested via money transfer, not via a reversible credit card payment. You send off the funds and, of course, the cute puppy never arrives.

The best way to identify a scam is to ask a few questions of the person you are talking to before parting with any money. Don't just accept their story; engage in conversation about where they live, where and when they are moving and where they will be contactable, so you can report on the puppy's progress. If they say they live interstate, tell them you have a relative or friend who lives there and can visit the puppy.

If the seller is overseas, remember it is impossible to import a dog to Australia within a few weeks as quarantine rules need to be followed. Some animals, such as rare birds, cannot be imported at all.

Avoid any arrangement that asks for upfront payment via money order, wire transfer or MoneyGram. Suggest a way of paying so you can track where it goes.

Do an internet search using the exact wording in the ad or the approach. Many well known scams can be found this way. Get advice about the details provided in the ad from someone in the industry, such as a breeders' association, vet or pet shop. If you are scammed you can lodge a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading in your state. If it is a fraud, it may be a police matter, but small amounts are unlikely to be investigated due to resource limitations.

Both Fair Trading and the ACCC warn that if the scam is over the internet it is high risk because it is much harder, if not impossible, to get money back from overseas jurisdictions.

DO: Take extra care with any arrangements made over the internet. The world is full of crooks, and it is virtually impossible to get money back from an overseas scammer.

DON'T: Make an upfront payment via money order, wire transfer or MoneyGram. It will be difficult to track and you may never see your funds again.

DO: Ask the seller some searching questions and try to get a conversation going to test if they are genuine.

Share your scam stories with us. Email [email protected].

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