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Exotic Bird Scam Is A Variation Of The Puppy Scam, BBB Warns

The BBB warns consumers to be skeptical of cut-rate pricing for pets in classified or online ads - or for demands that payments be sent by a money-transfer service. Both as signs the ads may be scams.

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
her.

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.

Find more consumers tips at the BBB website, or follow the BBB on Twitter or Facebook.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lotus108 September 25, 2012 at 11:15 AM
I was going to Recommend or Share to Facebook, but only see choices to Tweet, Email, Print, or Comment...it's early, is the button hiding somewhere? Will share by posting the link, but was just wondering.
Lotus108 September 25, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Just a reminder - please adopt/foster from shelters, and if for some reason you feel you have to buy from a breeder, PLEASE investigate them yourselves, in person, before you give any money. It is important to ask to see the parents in the actual place where they are living. This is often the catch, they may bring the parents out to the "public area" where it's clean and well kept, but the parents' actual living conditions may be awful.
Kurt Greenbaum September 25, 2012 at 12:30 PM
The "recommend" button sometimes gets glitchy and doesn't pop onto the page. It is often one of the last parts of the page to render. It did pop onto the page when I loaded it this morning to see these comments. I apologize for the inconvenience. If you don't see it, you might try reloading the page. It may also indicate a problem on Facebook's side. Thanks for reading Patch!
Chatty Cathy September 25, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Locally, you can adopt birds from St. Louis Avian Rescue. Their website is www.staravian.org . Each bird is vetted, home visits are required of prospective owners, and you have to meet the bird first (sometimes more than once) to be sure each likes the other. These birds come from all situations: surrendered because the owner died or moved, found outside and not claimed, removed by authorities from unsafe homes, abused and unwanted, or buyers remorse. Many people buy a bird then find out it is loud and/or messy. STAR also offers pet care classes and meet & greet with the foster birds. STAR does not have a facility at the moment and all birds are kept in foster homes until adopted. New fosters are welcomed. I am going to ask them to post your warnings to their website, it is good information to know. Amazing how the perpetrator knew what the bird would eat, etc., to make his story sound true.

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