Pet lovers sometimes let their hearts get the best of them. That's what happened recently when a woman saw an online ad for rose-breasted cockatoos.
The woman sent money to addresses supplied by the scammer - even though one of the addresses was a St. Louis city government building. But all she got was a request for more money.
For several years, similar scams have advertised purebred puppies for bargain-basement prices. In many cases, buyers are directed to send money to an address in a foreign country using money transfer services like Western Union, MoneyGram or Green Dot MoneyPaks. Once that money is sent, no pet is provided. Some scammers may even try to get more money from a consumer by claiming there are unforeseen fees, such as the cost of getting the animal out of quarantine. But the consumer still loses the money.
As the BBB has warned previously, the request to wire money should be a red flag indicating a scam. Money transfers can't be traced, so it's pretty much impossible for the consumer to recover the money.
For more tips and details, read today's BBB press release:
St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 24, 2012 – The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning bird fanciers to be wary of buying feathered friends from unknown sellers – even sellers using the address of a St. Louis City government building.
“I’m so mad at myself,” said a woman from Plainwell, Mich., who lost more than
$1,100 to a thief who had promised to sell her two rose-breasted cockatoos. The
con-man used addresses in Michigan, Maryland and 1520 Market Street in St.
Louis. The Market Street building, sometimes known as St. Louis City Hall-West,
houses several city offices.
The woman said she found the parrots on the website www.birdsnow.com, a site where sellers can advertise birds for sale. She said she communicated via email with the supposed seller for several days before sending payments to what she thought were addresses in St. Louis and the Republic of Cameroon in Africa. She said she realized she had been scammed when the birds never arrived and the seller demanded more money.
Worried that its site can be exploited by thieves, Birdsnow.com has provided its users with an extensive warning on potential scams. It suggests to consumers that “dealing locally, where you can see the other party face-to-face, is always
best.” The site also warns buyers to avoid Western Union or MoneyGram payments for online purchases. The Michigan woman used MoneyGram to send payments to the scammer.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said exotic bird scams are a twist on what have become known as “puppy scams,” where potential buyers send money for purebred puppies they never receive.
“This shows that it’s not just people searching for dogs who fall victim to these scams,” Corey said. “People searching newspaper classifieds and online ads for any type of pet can be vulnerable.”
“I thought with my heart and not my head,” the Michigan woman said.
The ad offered “cute and adorable rose breasted cockatoo parrots for good families” and included a photograph of two birds. In later emails, the scammer said the 13-month-old birds, named Blue Bell and Jessy, are “home raised, hand fed and potty trained” and would be shipped with their toys and ownership papers. The scammer said the birds’ diet includes butternut squash, broccoli, cucumbers, peas and papaya (with skins removed).
She said the original purchase price was $900 for the pair. She wired that amount
to a person she thought was at the Market Street address in St. Louis. Soon
after, the bogus seller asked for an additional $250, purportedly to get the
birds released from pet control officials who had stopped them in transit to
The woman said she was interested in buying the birds, in part, because she has a
son who is a disabled veteran who trains birds for others with disabilities.
“I know I will never see the money again,” she said. She said she hoped her story would save others from similar heartache.
The BBB offers these tips for prospective pet owners:
- Know your seller. Make sure you are dealing with a real and reputable person before sending any money. If you have any concerns, ask for personal references and contact them before conducting business.
- Do not use MoneyGram, Western Union or Green Dot MoneyPaks to make purchases from people you do not know.
- Don’t be fooled by touching stories or photographs of the animals. Both can be fabricated.
- Be very cautious of sending money to anyone who is living outside the United States. Most of these scams are perpetrated by scammers outside the country and out of reach of law enforcement.
- Beware of prices for pets that seem unusually low or which ask you only to pay for shipping the animals.
- Contact the BBB to obtain a BBB Business Review, file a complaint or report a scam.