By Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
What is a puppy scam?
How to Avoid Puppy Scams
How do I Find a Quality Dog Breeder?
How Do I Report a Puppy Scam?
Thanks to 2020 and all its craziness, the demand for puppies across the United States has spiked dramatically.
Unfortunately, so have internet scams.
While folks are increasingly turning to the internet to do their shopping, scammers are quickly catching on as they exploit and misuse well-intentioned buyers.
In pet sales alone, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) estimates that as many as 80% of sponsored search links for pet sales may be fraudulent. That’s right, 80%!
Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB serving Chicago and Northern Illinois explains, “Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations. The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money, and hopes for a new pet.”
Again and again, scammers lure people by using cute and compelling puppy photos only to steal their money and leave them in the end, without a puppy.
Fortunately, puppy scams are typically easy to detect once you know what to look for.
In today’s post, you are about to discover how to avoid puppy scams while spotting genuinely good and high-quality dog breeders.
You will get answers to frequently asked questions.
Plus, you’ll learn how to report suspicious activity to help protect the larger puppy community.
I’m glad you are here.
Let’s get started.
What is a Puppy Scam?
This is how many puppy scams are unfolding today:
First, the scammer poses as a breeder who is selling either a single puppy or a litter of puppies. Often times, the scammer steals information from real dog breeders and will even list puppies at a discount to attract more buyers.
Scammers frequently use stock or fake photos of puppies from other breeders or websites to make it look like they have them available.
Once a customer expresses interest in a puppy, the scammer will collect the customer’s money (typically via cashapp, Venmo, Western Union, or a similar platform).
Next, the scammer will bombard the buyer with lies, asking for additional money to cover various “unexpected” fees.
The scammer may also try to get the buyer to make a quick decision by tricking them into thinking they have a lot of interest in a particular puppy. Or the scammer will say that other people have put down a deposit, but they will give the puppy to the buyer if they pay full price up front.
Consider any unexpected fee as a warning sign!
Scammers will tell you the puppy needs a larger crate. Or maybe a puppy became sick and they are wanting the buyer to pay for veterinarian costs. Occasionally, they’ll even require the buyer to purchase pet insurance too. (Contrary to what scammers may say, there are no laws requiring a puppy to have pet insurance prior to travel.)
Another common tactic is to require additional funds to cover shipping costs. Scammers may even send you to a third-party website outlining shipping details and associated costs.
Whatever the case, scammers are skilled in stringing together lies to guilt buyers into sending yet more money for a puppy that in reality, doesn’t even exist.
Too often, the buyer falls for the scheme and pays additional money to cover these extra fees. However, no puppy is ever shipped.
Once found out, the scammer will continue asking for additional funds or may pass blame to the shipping company.
Sometimes they’ll even threaten the customer, saying that unless more money is paid out, the puppy will die or the customer will be charged with animal abandonment (which again is false!).
Eventually, the customer realizes they’ve been scammed.
Sadly, far too often the scammer walks away with a pocket full of cash.
How to Avoid Puppy Scams
While scams can and do happen, you needn’t fall prey to them.
Once you know what to look for, puppy scams are typically easy to spot.
Here are eleven simple steps you can take to avoid scams and make sure your new puppy is coming from a high-quality dog breeder.
1. Get multiple photos.
Get lots of photos, plus ask for specific poses of a puppy. For example, ask for a photo of the puppy with various random items. Items could include a ball, several books, or a drinking glass.
In addition, do a reverse image search via this google tool to check if the photos appear elsewhere on the web.
2. Ask for a phone number.
Get the seller’s phone number and double-check that it is an American phone number.
Call the number to confirm it is legitimate, then while on the line, ask questions about the puppy.
In addition to a phone call, you might also do a video chat and have the dog breeder show you the puppies during the call.
Fraudulent breeders are typically located outside of the United States and prefer to hide their phone numbers.
So if a seller ever doesn’t prefer phone calls, it should raise serious red flags on your end.
In addition to getting the seller’s phone number, also get a phone number for the local veterinarian where the puppy or puppy’s parents have been getting appropriate vaccines and check-ups.
Again, call the phone number to ensure it is a valid and working number.
3. Avoid breeders outside of the United States.
Currently, we only partner with breeders within the United States.
If a seller communicates that they are from a different country, consider it a scam.
In fact, many of the scams happening within the puppy world are currently being spearheaded by scammers in Cameroon, Africa.
4. NEVER pay via cashapp, Venmo, or Western Union.
Oftentimes, scammers will ask you to pay via cashapp, Venmo, or Western Union. Don’t!
Instead, opt to pay via credit card instead. This way, you can dispute any charges if needed.
Or if you are meeting in person, straight-up cash is another option.
5. Avoid additional charges.
Scammers love to tack on additional fees.
Whether it is money to cover a larger crate, veterinarian fees, shipping charges, or pet insurance (which isn’t actually required for pet travel!), any additional fee above what a puppy is listed for should raise serious red flags.
One exception is shipping. Shipping is typically an additional $400-$500. However, this total should be agreed on prior to you purchasing the puppy.
Never agree to pay more for shipping after you purchase a puppy.
Scammers will lie, falsely accuse you, and send you on guilt trips.
Don’t fall for it.
6. Never trust a “pushy” seller.
If you feel pressure from the seller to make a quick purchase, beware.
Perhaps they’ll say they can no longer care for the puppy, or they are needing to move.
The seller might even mention they have a more rare color or coat pattern and push you to pay much more for that puppy instead, or they’ll give you a discount for a rare color or coat pattern.
Or the seller may say the puppies must go ASAP or immediately.
These are typical phrases used to place pressure on buyers. Don’t be fooled by them.
7. Expect to pay a fair price.
As mentioned earlier, scammers often offer puppies either for free or at a greatly reduced price.
They do this only to lure in buyers.
So if a puppy is unusually cheap, act with caution. You’re likely spotting a scam.
8. Inspect written communication.
Because so many scammers are from outside the United States, be suspicious if written communication includes broken English or poor grammar.
9. Ask for a health guarantee.
Again, this adds validity to a seller.
The health guarantee usually includes a statement that the puppy is healthy and free of serious infectious diseases. It often requires that the buyer take the puppy to their own veterinarian to be examined within a specified amount of time.
Plus, it covers you in the case that your new puppy arrives home different than described (unexpectedly sick or crippled, etc).
10. Inquire about shipping options.
Does the seller allow you to pick up the puppy in person?
Do they tell you where they are located?
Or do they insist on shipping only?
If a seller offers shipping only and doesn’t permit you to visit, consider it a serious red flag.
11. Are you being offered a partial refund?
Occasionally, a scammer will tell you to pay more initially, and then promise to offer a partial refund after your puppy arrives home.
They might even ask for a deposit to hold the puppy and later ask you to pay the full price for the puppy, then they will supposedly refund you the deposit once you get the puppy.
Note: it is normal to place a deposit but usually that cost counts towards the cost of the puppy. You should never have to pay both a deposit and full price of a puppy, or be promised a partial refund afterward.
Again, never agree to this. It is almost always a sure sign of being scammed.
How do I Find a Quality Dog Breeder?
Fortunately, not every puppy seller is out to scam you.
There are, in fact, many high-quality and reputable dog breeders who are committed to raising happy and healthy puppies.
They take pride in their canines and are committed to finding good homes for their puppies. They should never seem ‘desperate’ to get rid of their puppies quickly.
Here are four things you can do to ensure you are purchasing from a quality dog breeder.
1. Read reviews and referrals.
This one can’t be emphasized enough.
What are other people saying about the breeder?
Does the breeder have a good track record of providing happy and healthy puppies? Have they performed any testing on their parents, such as hips or heart evaluation for dogs predisposed to those issues?
Are their dogs registered with any professional organizations such as local or national breed organizations, or the American Kennel Club? Will you be provided registration papers when you get the puppy or will be able to register them once the puppy is in your care?
Do prior customers recommend the breeder?
Why or why not?
2. Meet the breeder.
If you can meet in person, great!
If not, opt for a virtual meeting.
Facetime or Zoom are both great options for meeting a breeder and confirming they are high-quality dog breeders.
Ask them to show you the puppies and where they call home.
3. Ask and receive questions.
High-quality breeders love talking about and bragging on their dogs.
So go ahead and ask them questions about the breed you are interested in.
What are the parent dog sizes? Are there any special features about either the parents or puppy you are interested in?
How does the breeder describe your puppy’s temperament?
What temperament do the parent dogs display?
In addition to asking questions, expect the breeder to ask you questions as well.
While you are concerned about finding a happy and healthy puppy, they should be equally concerned about finding a safe and loving home for each of their puppies.
The result? Expect high-quality breeders to ask you questions about the kind of home you’ll be providing for your new puppy.
4. Ask for proof.
Get proof from the breeder that your puppy has been to a licensed veterinarian.
Ask where the puppy is on their shot-schedule and learn which shots are still needed after your puppy is home.
How Do I Report a Puppy Scam?
Be vigilant in your search for a new puppy.
The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) has an active list of frequently reported scammers here.
If you are suspicious of a seller, check if they are on the list.
In addition, should you discover anything amiss, report it immediately to email@example.com.
Alternatively, if you’ve already been scammed, here are steps you can take now to report the scammer:
- Submit seller info to IPATA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Report the scammer to the Better Business Bureau here.
- Report the scammer to law enforcement by filing a complaint at your local police department.
- Submit scammer info to FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center here.
Thank you for helping to make the puppy community safer for everyone, dog lovers and puppies alike!
Q. How do puppy scams work?
A. The seller poses as a dog breeder with puppies for sale. A buyer then “purchases” a puppy and sends payment only to be scammed and never receive a puppy.
Q. How do you know if a breeder is legit?
A. Read reviews. Meet the breeder either in person or virtually. Ask questions about your puppy and the puppy parents, and get proof that the puppy has been to a licensed veterinarian.
Q. How do you not get scammed when buying a puppy?
A. Get multiple puppy photos, look for a legitimate U.S. phone number, only pay via credit card, and be suspicious of additional charges. Expect a fair price, and always get a health guarantee.
Q. How can you tell if a puppy is from a puppy mill?
A. Puppies should always be raised in happy and healthy homes. Puppy mill warning signs include poor housing, parent dogs who are absent, dirty puppies, and a lack of medical attention.
Bringing home a new puppy is always exciting!
Don’t let your emotions sway good judgment though.
The next time you bring home a new puppy, first ask for multiple photos. Make sure you have a valid phone number and confirm the breeder is from within the United States.
Never pay via cashapp, Venmo, or Western Union. Don’t agree to additional charges, and avoid sellers who appear pushy or aggressive.
Expect to pay a fair price, be skeptical of any written communication that includes broken English, get a health guarantee, and meet the breeder either in person or via a virtual setup.
Last but not least, never fall for sellers who try to convince you they’ll give you a partial refund after your puppy is home. That’s just a big lie.
Instead, find and purchase from high-quality dog breeders by:
- reading reviews and referrals.
- meeting the breeder either in person or virtually.
- asking and receiving questions.
- getting proof from a licensed vet that the puppy is up-to-date with vaccines.
When communicating with a potential breeder, don’t mince your words.
Be straightforward with your questions.
This way you can purchase with confidence, knowing your new puppy is coming from a happy and healthy home.
Ready to start your puppy search? Don’t miss these newest puppies for sale right here at VIP Puppies.
Until next time,
Carney, M. (2020). How to spot a puppy scam online. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/spot-puppy-scam/.
Leanny, R. (2019). 10 Signs of puppy scams (and how to avoid being tricked). Retrieved from https://topdogtips.com/puppy-scams/.
Pet Scams (2020). AARP. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/pet.html.
Radak, S. (n.d.). Ten tips for avoiding online pet adoption scams. Retrieved from https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/waterbowl/article/ten-tips-for-avoiding-online-pet-adoption-scams.
Dr. Heather Venkat has been a veterinarian since 2013, working in companion animal medicine with dogs and cats, as well as veterinary public health. Her passion is in prevention, One Health, and strengthening the human-animal bond. A bonafide animal-lover, she competes in dog sports and currently shares her home with a border collie mix named Luna, three cats, and two leopard geckos.