The increased demand for pets amid the pandemic has sent puppy prices skyrocketing, and has caused a boom in pet-related fraud. In Australia alone, such scams have inflicted losses of more than US$1.5 million.

The country has seen a spike in pet-related fraud this year, with the numbers being at least four times higher than in 2019.

“The most common thing people were trying to buy when they were scammed was puppies and other pets,” the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in a statement on Tuesday.

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According to the watchdog, more than 2,100 cases of pet-related scams have been reported, inflicting more than AUD$2 million (nearly US $1.5 million) in damages. A predominant number of the cases are related to attempts to procure a canine from fraudsters, where the dog doesn’t actually exist.

Puppy prices have been soaring in Australia lately, particularly for compact dog breeds such as French bulldogs, pugs and dachshunds. Assorted advertisements available online promise aspiring pet-owners pure-breed puppies for prices ranging from AUD$3,000 up to a howling-mad AUD$10,000. But those ready to part with such sums risking getting neither canine nor cash as a result.

Australian breeders have urged the public to be extra careful while searching for puppies online and to check whether they are actually looking for dogs via a legitimate platform. Admitting the spike in prices, the breeders warned against going for extremely high – and low – prices alike.

“I don’t know of any of our Dog’s Queensland breeders who would be charging those sums of money,” Dogs Queensland president Ulla Greenwood told local media. “Our breeders might be charging up to maybe AUD$4,500 but I think alarm bells should go off if prices above that are being asked.” (RT)