A Canberra dog lover has become the scourge of the pet scammers and puppy farmers.
Maria Arnold set up a website "Perfect Pets" with an "ethical pet directory" which gets 80,000 hits a day from people checking out reputable breeders.
She verifies them as fully registered, legitimate, small-scale breeders of dogs and other animals.
She checks email addresses and phone numbers to make sure the purported seller really is a seller and not a scammer and also that a dog doesn't come from a large-scale puppy farm.
Since the coronavirus epidemic, her monitoring agency has seen the number of people consulting its website rise by about 33 per cent as more and more seek companionship from a pet to compensate for social isolation.
She was prompted to start the enterprise after a friend got a puppy which seemed to have come from a puppy farm, one of those large-scale commercial operations which are often criticised for the way they treat breeding dogs.
According to the RSPCA, "A puppy farm (also known as a puppy factory or puppy mill) is defined as 'an intensive dog breeding facility that is operated under inadequate conditions that fail to meet the dogs' behavioural, social and/or physiological needs'."
Doubts about her friend's dog and its background prompted Maria Arnold to start checking on breeders who were advertising in increasing numbers on the web.
Her mission is to "provide a platform that connects pet lovers with the highest standard of breeders, shelters, and pet related businesses".
She and a small team of volunteers go to great lengths to check on the credentials of breeders because of the sophistication of scammers who put up fake adverts for adorable puppies which never arrive with the buyer.
"Puppy scammers are very clever," she said.
She said that the fake dealers in pets sometimes copy the websites of legitimate dealers but alter the email address in barely discernible ways, say by adding a hyphen that a buyer wouldn't notice.
She knows of a case where a potential buyer of a puppy was told at the last moment that the dog was being sent from Darwin on a flight that afternoon but, said the fake dealer, it was very hot in Darwin so could the buyer send additional money immediately to get the dog on an earlier plane.
There have been 36 reported puppy scams in the ACT so far this year. Canberrans have been duped out of $31,400, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
In Australia, there have been 1,627 reports of puppy scams, with over $1.6 million in losses. That's three times higher than the figures for the whole of 2019 with two months of 2020 still to run.