Cute photos of deception –Online Puppy Scams

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and that old aphorism most definitely applies to buying a puppy online. 

When purchasing a puppy online, the risk of getting scammed is enormous, and even if you actually do get the puppy you ordered, you do not really know where it came from. The puppy may have come from a puppy mill that posts misleading photos hiding the fact it came from cruel conditions of neglect, where the suffering, overbred mother will live her life producing litter after litter. The puppy may have come from a backyard breeder, who just wants to make a quick profit, not caring about serious health and temperament issues of the puppies. And some puppy scammers even go as far as posing as fake rescues or shelters, offering “adoption” services.  

Do you know the signs of an online puppy scam? 

1. Expensive purebred puppies offered at bargain prices, or the price is negotiable, on sale or at a discount.

2. Puppy is free, you just pay the cost of shipping.

3. Seller tells a sad story about why the puppy is for sale for reasons such as a family hardship, relocation or death.

4. Seller claims not to be a breeder, but that their dog just had puppies and they are just trying to find them a good home.

5. Seller only communicates through emails or texts.

6. Puppy must be shipped to you — you can’t pick it up or meet the parents.

7. Payment for puppy has to be paid via money transfer or prepaid debit card.

8. After down payment is made, there are suddenly more expenses (vet bills, shipping insurance, crate fees, etc.), or the seller simply disappears. 

9. Fake vet records provided showing puppy is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations.

10. The puppy’s photo is in other ads (discovered by doing a reverse image search).

The biggest scam may not even be losing your money outright, but in that if you actually do receive a puppy, you may end up with thousands of dollars in vet bills to care for a sick puppy, that may not survive.

Tips to avoid being scammed

Don’t buy a puppy online.   

Adopt, Don’t Shop. There are millions of unwanted puppies, including purebreds, sitting in shelters and rescue organizations, who make sure puppies and dogs are cared for, are up-to-date on vaccinations, microchipped, spayed or neutered, microchipped, and exhibit no demonstrative dangerous behavior-and for adoption fees much less than those hefty online prices.

Avoid Classified Sites, social media and websites. Puppy scam artists frequently use online classified sites, like Craigslist, and also Pet Find or social media, while others will go the extra mile and build websites, showcasing their puppies.    

Never Wire Money. Legitimate breeders will not to ask you to wire money and then ship their pedigreed puppies to an unknown buyer. Scam artists want you to wire money via Western Union or sending pre-paid cards as forms of payment because there is no trace or way of holding them accountable.

Research seller and get a contract.  Search the seller’s name and contact information with the words “scam” and “complaint” to see if they’re on a puppy scammer list.  Canine scammers are also known to change their names, so be aware just because your search comes up with nothing, it doesn’t mean the seller isn’t a canine con artist.  Visit to see if a seller is listed or if a website is marked as a scam. 

Ask for references, including the veterinarian they use to care for their dogs and make sure the records the “breeder” provide are legitimate.

Get a contract with everything in writing, including the covering of medical expenses in the event of illness and genetic defects, return policy, etc. Legitimate breeders always take puppies back or help out if issues arise – and in many states, they are legally obligated to.

Meet the Seller and Puppy. Anytime a breeder is reluctant to meet where they live, that should send up huge red flags. A reputable breeder will want you to know where and how their dogs live and for you to meet the parents of the puppy you are considering. Likewise, you should also want to meet your potential new puppy to make sure there is a connection and that the puppy matches your lifestyle, instead of just ordering one based on a picture. It’s a life, not a pair of socks.

Pet Shipping Services. Scam artists are in the puppy scamming business for one reason – to make money and go so far as to use the names of legitimate pet shipping companies in their schemes. They will illegally use logos and pirate websites. Contacting these pet shipping services to confirm they are doing business with the individual/s you are communicating with may just provide you with the answers you are seeking.

While there are many tips to avoid being scammed online, the only real way is to not purchase a puppy online. If you or someone you know has purchased a puppy online and encountered or fallen victim to an online scam, please report it to your state attorney general and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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