Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as many of us have been spending more time at home, a number of lucky Australians have taken the opportunity to welcome a new pet into their lives.
Sadly however, there are dodgy sellers online who'll take advantage of families who are keen to meet their new companion.
We've seen several distressing stories recently, about people being scammed when trying to buy a new pet online.
In some instances, the pet that arrives is not what the purchaser thought they were buying; it may arrive with serious health issues; and in many instances, the pet never arrives at all.
This is not only heartbreaking for potential adopters, but financially devastating, with some shelling out thousands of dollars in purchase fees and transport costs before they realise they've been duped.
So, if you're looking to find a new pet, here are some important tips to help reduce the risk of being ripped off.
Make adoption your first option
A well-known and trusted animal welfare organisation (like the RSPCA) is not only a great way to find the perfect pet for you, but is also a very safe option.
Start searching online through a site like Adoptapet, and you'll find dogs and puppies, cats and kittens, of many different types, sizes and breeds. You'll also get trustworthy advice and valuable support through the entire adoption process.
Never trust a seller who will send a pet sight unseen
When you start your search, this is a major red flag.
A good breeder will want to know the animal they've raised is going to the right home. They'll want to meet you and your family and understand more about your lives.
They won't hesitate to meet you in person, allow you to see their premises and meet their other animals (including at least your pet's mother, and preferably father as well).
If you've found a breeder who is happy to send a pet delivered to your door, walk away. Scammers are even using the pandemic as a reason to avoid meeting you - don't accept any excuses. It may be temptingly convenient, but the risk just isn't worth it.
Check images carefully
Scammers don't want to spend any extra time or money, so they tend to use the same stock images over and again. Try doing a reverse Google Image search to see if the photo of your puppy or kitten comes up elsewhere online.
You should also expect to see lots of different photos of your new pet, on different days and in different settings. Try asking for a specific photo with a particular prop or background. If you're only offered a couple of similar photos, that's good reason to worry your potential new pet doesn't actually exist.
Only use trustworthy websites
To help you find trustworthy sites, and to support those online platforms that are doing the right thing, the RSPCA has produced Guidelines for the Online Advertising of Pets.
You can look for sites that follow the guidelines, and also read the guidelines yourself so you know what to look for.
Sites that allow sellers to advertise animals who are very young, are not microchipped or vaccinated, or are available 'for delivery', should immediately be viewed as high risk.
And if you see an ad that you believe breaches any website's rules, make sure you report it to the site administrators.
Do plenty of research
Check out the RSPCA's Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer's Guide to learn more about choosing and finding the right pet for you.
There's a Smart Kitten and Cat Buyer's Guide too.
For example, many purebred dogs and cats have hereditary health issues - some worse than others. Research your preferred breed to understand the issues, then talk to the breeder about them. If they acknowledge the issues and explain what they're doing to reduce them, that's a good sign. If they downplay or dismiss your concerns, that's a big red flag.
To learn more about finding your new pet safely online, visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase:kb.rspca.org.au