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Tag: insurance

Fraud runs rampant in online pet sales

yorkiepups2

If you’re planning to search online to buy a new dog, be warned: Up to 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links that will show up — like that one above for instance — may be fraudulent.

So might that particular photo of a particularly cute puppy, those purebred “papers” that the seller promises to send along, that pastoral setting in which a breeder’s kennel is supposedly located. And the dog being advertised? It might not even exist at all.

The Better Business Bureau last week issued a report warning that online pet sales scams are “victimizing Americans at an alarming rate.”

A growing demand for dogs and an increase in shopping online have combined to give scammers an unprecedented opportunity to promise to sell you a dog, and leave you much poorer and petless.

The BBB advises extreme caution — and never buying a dog from a breeder without visiting that breeder. Don’t let yourself fall in love with a photo and, as with online dating, be careful of getting your heart broken.

Fake pet sales have become so common that the attorneys general of three states — Ohio, Arizona and Virginia — have issued warnings to residents in the past year, the Washington Post reported last week.

The BBB report says many of the suspected fraudulent websites offering dogs are based in the West African nation of Cameroon, and that Cameroonians residing in the U.S. are being used to collect the money from victims through Western Union and MoneyGram outlets.

Several recent cases prosecuted in the United States involve links to Cameroon, including three Pennsylvania university students accused in May of peddling nonexistent boxer puppies online.

The BBB says a high number of victims of online pet marketing schemes are in their late teens or 20s

Such schemes are usually dependent on bogus, often sophisticated, advertisements to hook unsuspecting consumers.

“In the current digital age, it is no surprise that the first step in many people’s search for a new pet begins with the internet. Alas, even the most careful online search is likely to put a consumer in contact with a potential thief. Reports show there are thousands of people around the country, and the world, who have become victims of puppy scams, and many of these typically begin with a fake web site and stolen photos, often taken from a legitimate site,” the report said.

Greedy “sellers” rarely are satisfied with collecting a deposit; most will demand additional payments until the buyer finally becomes suspicious or runs out of funds.

The scammers often hit the prospective “buyers” with additional charges before any dog is even shipped.
While avoiding any in-person meeting with a potential buyer, they ask victims to send money to a supposed third party who will take over responsibility for transporting the animal. In addition to creating phony websites to advertise the animals, the thieves will develop bogus websites that appear to be legitimate transport companies.

Those who pay for pet shipping often are asked to buy or rent a special crate for the pet and requests for special insurance or shots for the animals. At times, the thieves may claim the pet is stuck at an airport in transit and additional money is needed for food and water.

If a customer balks, the fraudsters might inform them that, unless more money is forthcoming, the potential buyer could be charged with “animal abandonment.”

In one typical case a customer named Yahong Zheng of Omaha, Neb., ordered two huskies from the website huskieshaven.com. He forked over $1,200 and was asked for additional money before realizing it might be a scam.

Kanetria Hutcherson found a teacup Yorkie on the website usa.globalfree-classified-ads.com and wired the company a $195 shipping fee to transport the animal. Soon after wiring the $195 fee through MoneyGram, Hutcherson received an email appearing to be from Delta Air Cargo, claiming the animal needed a special crate before it could be put on the plane. She wired an additional $240.

After that she was told the dog had been transported as far as Oklahoma City, and she was instructed to purchase health insurance for the dog at an additional cost of $980. Later she received another email from Delta Air Cargo that asked for another $200; one instructing her to pay $150 for food and water for the animal; and another informing her the dog neeed to be quarantined at a cost of $1,900.

Not until she called the real Delta Air Cargo was she certain she was being duped.

Delta Air Lines last week filed a lawsuit against what it called a “bogus” site that dupes people into believing it provides pet transport services on Delta jets. The site is called DeltaPetTransit.com.

By then she’d paid nearly $1,000 for a dog originally advertised as free. While the dog was said to belong to a family in Baltimore, the same photo, it turns out, was used to advertise a puppy for sale in Florida, Texas, the U.K., New York, and Hungary.

The BBB Study suggests the actual numbers of pet fraud may be even higher than reported, because many victims either choose not to file complaints or do not know where to turn for help. BBB ScamTracker contains 907 reports on this type of fraud, which represents 12.5% of all their complaints involving online purchase fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission in 2015 found 37,000 complaints involving pets, and the vast majority of those are believed to be pet sales scams.

More information about pet sales scammers can be found at the website petscams.com, which tracks scamming reports victims and lists websites that have been linked to scammers.

Woof in Advertising: Quarterback and his dog appear together in State Farm ad

Dogs in advertisements — even those cast in fairly superfluous supporting roles — have a way of stealing the show.

We’d say that’s the case in this new ad from State Farm Insurance, in which Rigsbee totally outclasses the ad’s human stars, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stars and his teammate Clay Matthews.

In the ad, Rigsbee and Rodgers find the windshield of Rodgers’ truck has been damaged by a drone.

woof in advertisingThat prompts memories of the seven years of happy times Rigsbee and Rogers shared on the road: Playing football at the beach, driving across sand dunes, hanging their heads out the car windows.

State Farm, of course, shows up to assure Rodgers the truck will be good as new — as does Clay Matthews who, it turns out, was piloting the drone by remote control.

Rigsbee is described in news reports as Rodgers’s dog in real life — but, if so, their trips down memory lane have to be pretty short.

And since the ad shows him both as a pup ad in a full grown state, it can only be surmised that Rigsbee grew up very, very fast.

chancefrankAs of this spring, when Rodgers and actress Olivia Munn were ending their three-year relationship, the couple had two dogs — Chance and Frank. Chance, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy was adopted by Munn, a big proponent of adoption, in 2014. Frank, a Jack Russell terrier mix, joined the couple more recently. Both dogs had their own Instagram accounts.

There’s no mention on social media or in news reports of any Rigsbee before that — so, with Munn taking custody of Frank and Chance, it appears Rigsbee joined Rodgers after the split and, unlike Rodgers, has kept a pretty low profile since.

In any event, the dog described as belonging to Rodgers does a fine job — both the puppy version and the larger version. Between him (them?) and the song, the humans just sort of fade into the background.

The song is Joey Scarbury’s “Believe it or Not,” which might be doubly appropriate for this ad, given the lack of any history of Rigsbee and his phenomenal growth spurt.

(For more of our Woof in Advertising posts, click here.)

Woof in Advertising: Running of the bulldogs

The way they saturate the market, it’s easy to get tired of car insurance ads.

They’ve always tended to air over and over again, until — as imaginative as they might be — we become sick of them.

Perhaps you too have fallen victim to seeing a little too much of the Progressive spokeswoman, or, as I call it, a Floverdose.

Similarly, GEICO’s gecko, cute at first, quickly began grating on my nerves.

woof in advertisingAll this culminates, or at least it does for me, in coming to the decision that I’m not going to be a customer — because their ads annoy me (and because, as much as they spend on advertising, it, somehow, has to be costing me.)

Pretty much every insurance company claims it can save you money — that their rates will save you $318, $412, $562 a year over their competitors — and we all know there’s no way that can be true.

So I no longer look for or expect truth in advertising from car insurance companies; instead I merely expect their commercials to either make me laugh or make me warm and tingly inside — at least until I’ve seen it 20 times.

This new ad from GEICO manages to do both. It’s funny, it’s timely, and it has dogs. Lots of dogs.

On top of that, it’s fresh. The key to keeping viewers from overdosing on a company’s ads is to change them up, which GEICO — though I can’t speak for its insurance — seems to do better than any of the insurance providers.

Their advertising agencies come up with new concepts (otherwise we’d still be watching those cavemen), and provide plenty of variations on continuing themes.

This one, by the Martin Agency, is part of the “what’s not surprising” series. It depicts what looks like is going to be the running of the bulls, but the animals that come charging around the corner in pursuit of the runners are bulldogs.

“The running of the Bulldogs? Surprising. What’s not surprising? How much money Aleia saved by switching to GEICO.”

The actual running of the bulls began earlier this month, ending July 14 at this year’s San Fermin festival in the northern Spanish city of Pamplona.

(This link will lead you to more of our Woof in Advertising posts)

Woof in Advertising: Snoopy gets the axe

MetLife has given Snoopy his walking papers.

After proudly serving the insurance company for 30 years, Snoopy is being put out to pasture as part of a company-wide “refresh” aimed at portraying MetLife as more sophisticated and financially savvy.

The beagle who has been appearing in MetLife ads since the 1980’s is not the sort of symbol they say they now need.

woof-in-advertising“We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant,” said chief marketing officer Esther Lee.

“Snoopy helped drive our business and served an important role at the time,” she added. “We have great respect for these iconic characters. However, as we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”

In other words, Snoopy and the Peanuts gang — as loved and symbolic as they are — are not the kind of symbols the company wants representing them in these times of doing whatever is necessary to make all the money you can possibly make.

You’ve got to admit, the Peanuts characters have never been known for their financial savvy.

lucyI mean 5 cents for psychiatric advice? That’s not going to bring in the kind of profits American corporations now insist on.

Making obscene profits, and being able to talk with saying anything, are vital skills for the modern day American company.

MetLife seems to have that second part down. It’s not until the bottom of its press release about ushering in a new era that the company press release mentions the phasing out of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang — not until after they go on and on (and on) about their bold new company logo.

It’s the letter “M” — but not just any “M.”

“MetLife’s new visual branding is built around a clean, modern aesthetic,” the press release says. “The striking new brandmark brings contemporary blue and green colors together in a symbol of partnership to form an M for MetLife.

“The iconic MetLife blue carries forth the brand’s legacy, but has been brightened and now lives alongside a new color – green – which represents life, renewal and energy. The broader MetLife brand palette expands to include a range of vibrant secondary colors, reflecting the diverse lives of its customers.”

Zzzzzzzz. Good grief! AAUGH!!!

aaughThere will be no more Snoopy in MetLife ads (but we’ll stay tuned for the exciting adventures of that “M”).

And Snoopy will no longer appear on the MetLife blimp.

Don’t cry too much for him, though.

He has plenty on his plate, or in his bowl.

PETA has offered him a job, at least in a tongue in cheek way, as mascot of its doghouse donation program.

Likely, he won’t jump at that, because he’s already sitting pretty. He — or at least descendants of his creator — still reap profits from arrangements with Hallmark, Warner Bros. and Target, CNN reports.

The Peanuts brand has more than 700 licensing agreements in about 100 countries, according to SEC filings. Iconix Brand Group (ICON) partnered with the family of Charles M. Schulz to buy the brand from two publishing houses for $175 million in 2010.

His TV specials will probably be watched by our great great grandchildren.

And he still has his gig with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Snoopy has floated down Broadway 39 times, more than any other character.

Let’s see an “M” do that.

(Woof in Advertising is a recurring ohmidog! feature that looks at how dogs are used in marketing. You can find earlier posts in this archived collection.)

Loaner dogs: There’s an app for that … but should there be?

barknborrow

Once again, I’m app-rehensive.

Seems to me we’re turning to apps for just about everything these days — even to accomplish all the simple things that used to come naturally, in time, with a little effort.

Want all the ingredients to cook up a tasty dinner? Don’t go to the grocery store. Fire up an app and have them delivered. Want a ride from here to there, a date, a wife, a plumber, travel directions? Turn to an app.

Need an inspirational phrase or selection of scripture to get through your day? Need to know what the weather’s doing? Don’t open a Bible. Don’t step outside. Fire up an app.

There are, of course, plenty of apps you can use to buy or adopt a dog, or at least get pointed in the right direction. But now comes an app aimed at those who want a dog but can’t have one.

It matches up people who want to spend a limited time with a dog with dog owners who wouldn’t mind a little help — in other words, the app serves as a middle man, as apps often do, charging both sides, as apps often do.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m between dogs, and find myself seeking out a canine fix several times a week. I strongly believe that the joy of dogs should be spread among as many people as possible, and that it’s in a dog’s interest to hang out with as many new people in new situations as possible.

I’m all for those two groups — those with dogs and dog-less folks wanting to spend time with one — getting matched up, assuming all involved are sincere dog-loving sorts without evil agendas. But what’s to assure that?

All these start-up apps promise “screening” and “vetting,” but try to find one that actually describes what steps they take in that process, other than using a vague term like “background check.” You rarely, if ever, will.

My guess is that they all use a background check app for that.

So we end up with psycho Uber drivers, and getting matched up for dates with “millionaire bachelors” who are actually unemployed sex offenders, and plumbers who are only vaguely familiar with what a wrench does.

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Berkeley

Bark’N’Borrow is the brainchild of 24-year-old Liam Berkeley.

Berkeley says the app is meant for people who wish they could have a dog, but can’t care for one full-time. It connects them with dog-owners who are willing or wanting to loan them their dog for playdates and sleepovers.

The app also caters to dog owners who are interested in trading dog sitting responsibilities with each other, thereby avoiding hiring a dog sitter or relying on a kennel.

The app had 70,000 users even before it debuted its 2.0 version on Friday, National Dog Day, according to Forbes.com. The new version includes a paid subscription model — users pay $7.99 for one month or $4.99 a month if they sign up for three months.

“Dog sharing connects you with people and puts your dog in a happier place,” Berkeley said. “There’s more love to be shared.”

With the app, dog owners can browse potential borrowers, and borrowers can flip through borrow-able dogs, seeing where they are located, their breed, size, personality, breed and training level.

On the plus side, Bark’N’Borrow is donating 5% of all subscription fees to the Best Friends Animal Society.

It also says it is insuring every subscriber — both dog owner and dog borrower — for accidents up to $2 million, just to be on the safe side. (That insurance only applies to dog dates that are scheduled on the app’s platform.)

Berkeley points out that dog owners hire dog walkers they don’t know all the time. “Your dog sitter and dog walker are a stranger until they become your dog sitter or dog walker,” he said. “We do a very good job of vetting each individual. We try to create the safest, most responsible community possible.”

The website does not describe what’s involved in that “vetting.”

Berkeley, originally from Sydney, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment and launched the site in 2014. He said he came up with the app idea when he and his then-girlfriend wanted to adopt a dog but knew they couldn’t look after one with their busy schedules.

Instead, they played with neighbors’ dogs, which helped Berkeley realized many people — those with dogs and those without them — would like an arrangement like that.

It is a wonderful thing, when it happens naturally.

To coax it into place by remote control, and on a nationwide scale, strikes me as problematic — just like those dog rental companies that popped up a few years ago and, thankfully, went away.

For a non-dog owner seeking some dog time, there might be better ways:

Go for walks and see who you run into. Strike up conversations (an exchange of words that occurs verbally and face to face, without the use of a device). Volunteer at your local shelter or with a rescue group. Go to a dog park, even though you don’t have a dog. (It’s allowed.) Attend dog-related functions.

For dog owners, good old-fashioned friends are probably a preferable, and less pimp-like, alternative, to turning your dog’s leash over to a stranger and saying “OK, have fun, see ya in a few hours.”

I won’t go so far as to say one should never use this app.

I’d just say use it carefully, as you might use Craigslist. If you do meet with a listed dog borrower (or even an owner), do it in public, with a friend along. And don’t rely on your first impression, or all that vetting the app promises.

In other words, do like they did in the old days and get to know that person first.

Before you turn your dog over to a stranger, make sure he or she is not a stranger anymore.

(Photos: Barn’N’Borrow)

It’s getting harder to fetch this stick

quicksand

(Today’s post has nothing to do with dogs. This happens on rare occasion when I become so steamed about some non-dog issue that I must vent — today in the form of a fable.)

You are hiking down a remote jungle trail in some country where there is quicksand — that legendary kind of quicksand from which there is no escape — when you come across a woman who is hip deep and sinking slowly.

“Oh thank God,” she says when she sees you.

She looks familiar. You smile and ask her name.

“Heather Bresch,” she says.

It takes a moment to register. “Heather Bresch? The CEO of Mylan, the pharmaceutical company that makes the EpiPen?”

“Yes,” she says as she struggles against the quicksand and sinks a little deeper. “I’m vacationing in this country, and I left my luxury villa to take a little walk and this happened. I need help.”

“Clearly you do,” you say. “I’m happy to provide assistance.”

“If you could get that fallen tree limb over there and pass it to me, I think I could pull myself out,” she says, sinking up to the waist as she points.

You walk over and pick up one end of it. “This one?” you say.

“Yes,” she says. “Hurry please.”

You begin sliding the tree limb in her direction.

“This one is $10 million,” you say.

She laughs uncomfortably. “Please, hurry,” she says.

“I’m serious,” you say.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “It’s just a tree limb.”

epi“And the EpiPen is just a stick with, or so I’ve read, $1 worth of medicine in it — yet your company has raised the price of it to $300.”

“The EpiPen save lives,” she says.

“So might this stick, if used as directed,” you respond.

Up to her chest in quicksand, she promises to give you the money when she gets out, but you tell her you need it up front.

She struggles to dig into her pockets, causing her to sink up to her neck. As she pulls cash out of her pockets and flings it in your direction, she explains that the six-fold increase in the price of EpiPens was necessary.

“Mylan has spent millions on research and development of the product,” she says. “You can’t expect us to pay for all that ourselves.”

“Oh, so you invented Epinephrine?”

“Well, no, but we’ve spent a lot of money perfecting our sophisticated self-delivery system — in which you plunge a needle in your own leg and push down on the stopper, administering a pre-measured, life-saving dosage.”

“And if people just measured their own, and used an old fashioned syringe, what would be the actual cost?” you ask.

“Oh, maybe about $2.29, but that’s not the point. The point is much effort and significant expense went into creating that delivery system — things like shipping and handling and lobbying and designer white lab coats, all part of our noble effort to keep people from dying from allergic reactions to bee stings and such.”

She throws a final fistful of cash out of the quicksand. “There,” she says, “that’s $10 million. Now please slide that stick to me.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” you say. “The $10 million price was five minutes ago. It has gone up since then – to $20 million.”

“That’s more than I make in a year,” she protests.

bresch“Well, only 1 million more,” you point out. “The only thing that has climbed more quickly than the cost of EpiPens is your salary.”

“We are not talking about my salary,” she says. “Now, please, the stick. Anyone can hand someone a stick. It costs nothing.”

“Bear in mind,” you say, as the quicksand rises to her mouth, “you are not so much paying for the stick as you are paying for the delivery system. Just look at me as a monopoly providing a needed service. And the cool part is I just stumbled upon my monopoly. I didn’t need help from my senator-father, or to spend millions lobbying for it.”

You watch as the quicksand covers her nose, and then her eyes.

As the top of her head disappears, you plunge the stick into the muck. She grabs on and hauls herself out. Though coughing and exhausted, she manages a laugh, and you are pretty sure you hear her call you a “sucker.”

She crawls about picking up her money as you walk away — but not before noticing an anaconda is slithering up to her from behind, and an alligator is creeping towards her from the river, and a swarm of Zika-carrying mosquitoes is headed her way.

You are not worried about her. She is where she belongs:

With all the other predators.

Woof in Advertising: Utterly unskippable

You know, probably all too well, those intrusive and uninvited advertisements that often precede viewing the videos you want to view on the Internet.

They are known as “pre-roll ads,” and I always do my best to make them disappear — both in terms of the videos I put on ohmidog!, and in terms of my own home viewing. I skip them the millisecond YouTube permits me to.

This one though, I’ve watched ten times, in its entirety.

The first five seconds of the Geico ad shows an all-too-typical family enjoying an all-too-typical spaghetti dinner, with the wife bragging about saving money on her insurance bill before the ad seems to culminate, at the five-second mark, in what at first appears to be an all-too-typical freeze frame.

That, as the family remains frozen — or at least tries to — is where the Saint Bernard comes in.

wia

He eats spaghetti off the dad’s fork, climbs atop the table and clears the daughter’s plate, passes over the salad and spills a glass of milk as he proceeds to the the son’s plate, devouring its contents. Then he plunges his snout  into the serving dish mom is holding.

The ad doesn’t really make me want to find out if 15 seconds can save me 15 percent on my insurance bill, but it’s brilliant — and further proof that dogs have a way of holding our attention, especially dogs behaving badly.

The ad was filmed in Los Angeles last month, and the dog, whose real name is Bolt, is a Saint Bernard mix.

If you find it impossible to skip, that was exactly the goal — to keep people riveted, even though it’s a form of advertising most of us detest.

“We call these unskippable,” Joe Alexander, chief creative officer at The Martin Agency, told USA Today. The agency has created three other mock freeze-frame Geico spots.

“Our goal is to bring attention to Geico in a space that is often hated,” he said.

(You can find more of our “Woof  in Advertising” posts — about how marketers use dogs in advertising — here.)