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Advance payment fraud Caution advised for online trade with animals

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If you look for puppies online, you will quickly find online shops selling young pure-bred dogs at low prices. From Labradors to Border Collies and Pugs: The fake stores often offer a huge selection and even deliver the adorable puppies from abroad to your home. Our customer Fabienne Moser also found her Terrier puppy on the website of fake pet dealers: She paid in advance, received another demand for money – only she never saw her Lulu.

AXA customer Fabienne Moser* has wanted a dog for years. When the dental technician moved to a small town for work, the time was right. She searched the Internet for puppy breeders and found an online store whose range and presentation immediately appealed to her. The online portal was professional and designed with a lot of attention to detail: Countless photos of adorable puppies – all supposedly vaccinated and described in detail – made the 32-year-old’s heart skip a beat.

“I could hardly believe how many adorable puppies were on offer here,” says Fabienne Moser – without being the least bit suspicious of the huge selection of puppies. She spent many hours on the site over a period of weeks before deciding on Lulu, a Yorkshire Terrier with a golden-white coat and dark button eyes.

EUR 900 down payment for a Terrier

Full of anticipation for the Terrier puppy, she transferred the required EUR 900 in advance. “I found the online store’s service very positive and the communication was always professional,” says the woman from Solothurn. After transferring the advance payment, she chatted several times via WhatsApp with the alleged contact person at the puppy store: “Among other things, he wrote me detailed information about Lulu’s character and vaccination status.” Fabienne Moser could hardly wait for her puppy to arrive. The dog basket, food bowl, and puppy food were already ready.

“I was totally in love with the puppy and saw everything through rose-colored glasses – even though the alarm bells should have gone off much earlier.”

Fabienne Moser, AXA customer

No puppy, but another demand for money

However, five weeks later, a worried WhatsApp arrived instead of the puppy. “The dealers from the online store asked me to transfer another EUR 500 for onward transportation. Otherwise Lulu could die of thirst at the border on the way to Switzerland,” says Fabienne Moser. As this payment had never been mentioned beforehand, she now became suspicious. Instead of transferring the remaining amount, she picked up the phone and contacted AXA.

Cyber insurance covers the loss

Fortunately, Fabienne Moser took out private cyber insurance around a year ago when her credit card was hacked and the bank did not cover the loss. AXA researched the fraudulent online store, helped the customer change her passwords and block her credit cards and covered the loss in full – minus the deductible.

*The customer’s name has been changed at her request but is known to AXA.

Five questions for Delia Moore, Head of Customer Service at AXA Cyber Prevention Services

How does advance payment fraud work?

In classic advance payment fraud, the goods offered do not actually exist. In this particular case, the cyber criminals were never in possession of the dog, but merely published pictures of puppies and demanded payment in advance. These payments ended up directly in the pockets of the fraudsters, without our customer ever having the opportunity to receive one of the animals.

What signs should make you suspicious?

You should never transfer money in advance – in any form whatsoever – before you receive a product. This also applies, in particular, to supposed additional costs. It is often claimed that there are costs for delivery or customs duties, but in reality the victims are being pressured into making an initial or further advance payment. In these cases, customers often wait in vain for their order and the money is irretrievably lost.

What is advance payment fraud?

Advance payment fraud is basically any form of fraud in which an advance payment must be made in order to subsequently receive a product or service.

How were you able to help Ms. Moser?

Firstly, we analyzed the case: We checked the URL, the WhatsApp chats, the telephone number, and the overall appearance of the page. The customer filed a complaint directly with the local police.

In addition, we offered Ms. Moser mental support and held a prevention meeting to avoid future cases. We helped her change her passwords, block her credit cards, and request new ones. We also worked with her to coordinate the reporting of claims to her banks and set up our browser plugin together. As a result, she will be warned in future as soon as she visits a fraudulent website. We covered the financial loss, minus the deductible.

The fake store is still online. How can that be?

Fraudulent websites can still be online for various reasons. Some of them are difficult to identify: It takes a user to alert the authorities to fraudulent activities so that measures can be taken.

It can also take some time for authorities or Internet service providers to become aware of fraudulent activities and take action. It is therefore important to report suspicious websites in order to protect other users and support the authorities in the fight against cybercrime. AXA Cyber Insurance cooperates with ScamAdviser: We report suspicious sites to add to their blacklist of fake stores.

The police also have the opportunity to take action against fraudulent websites. In cooperation with Internet service providers and other authorities, they can take measures to combat fraudulent activities on the Internet. This can include blocking or removing fraudulent websites and prosecuting those responsible. We therefore always recommend that our customers report suspicious websites to local police so that they can react appropriately.

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How do preventative cyber measures offer protection in the case of fraudulent online shops?

As part of the online shopping module, customers with AXA cyber insurance receive a tool that is easy to install in their browser and warns them when they access/visit fraudulent websites. They can also contact the AXA Customer Service if they have any questions or doubts. In addition, you will receive regular alerts from us about the latest scams. Our primary goal is to ensure that our customers can enjoy the highest level of security on the Internet. With AXA cyber insurance including prevention services, they are fully informed and protected so that they can move freely and carefree in the digital space.

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