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How to Spot a Puppy Scammer

Puppy scammers are individuals or businesses who often use stolen photos and false information to advertise puppies for sale. The scammers will then ask for payment via wire transfer or online payment methods, and then disappear once they receive payment.

These heartless criminals are experts at preying on unsuspecting pet lovers, and they're getting increasingly clever at it. So how can you avoid falling victim to these scams?

In this article, we'll tell you how to spot a puppy scammer, what common tactics they use, and tips for avoiding them.


Common Puppy Scams

There are several methods that puppy scammers use to take advantage of unsuspecting people. The two you're most likely to hear about are either advance fee scams or non-delivery scams.

Advance Fee Scams

In an advance fee scam, the scammer will ask for a deposit or fee upfront to hold the puppy for you, with the promise that they’ll ship the puppy to you once you pay the fee.

Here’s how they work:

  1. You click a link or an ad to a website selling puppies for below market price.
  2. When you get in touch with the seller, you're immediately required to pay a deposit fee upfront to secure or hold the puppy.
  3. The seller will pressure you until you've sent the fee. Then, they'll ghost you as soon as they get the money.

Non-Delivery Scams

Non-delivery scams are similar in that the victim pays upfront, but the scammers only start asking for money during the shipping process.

After luring you with low prices, these scammers will ask for certification and handling fees that they conveniently left out in the post or website.

Here's how a non-delivery puppy scam works: 

  1. You'll find a post online for a puppy that's usually for a fraction of the price you'd expect to pay or even for free.
  2. You'll need to wire money to the seller to cover the cost of shipping and handling for the puppy.
  3. The scammer will then provide false shipping information. They may even send fake photos and documents of the puppy in transit.
  4. Once the money is theirs, however, you'll never hear from the seller again.

How to Spot a Puppy Scammer Website

The internet has made it easier than ever for puppy scammers to find victims. They create fake websites that look like legitimate businesses, and use social media to advertise their “puppies for sale.” They may even have fake testimonials from happy customers. 

The best way to avoid being scammed is to do your research before you buy a puppy online. Here are some tips on how to spot a scam website:

  • First, check to see if the website is registered with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Look for information about the puppy’s parents and breeder. The website should readily provide this information.
  • Take a look at the contact information on the website. If it’s incomplete or only provides a PO Box, that is another sign that the website may be a scam.
  • Finally, read through the website's policies and procedures. If they’re unclear or nonexistent, that’s another sign that the website may not be legitimate.

How to Spot a Puppy Scammer Social Media Post

Puppy scam posts usually look like this:

There’s a photo of an adorable puppy, often with a sad story about how the puppy was abandoned or needs a home.

The post will say that the puppy is free to a good home, and will include a contact phone number or email address. 

They can seem just like any other Facebook post in your feed, marketplace, or local groups.

However, there are a few key things to look for that will help you spot a scammer: 

  • The price of the puppy is way below the going market price for the breed. Some puppies are even listed as “free” but ask for the buyer to cover additional fees.
  • They use the words “adopt” and “rescue” in the post—usually accompanied by a sob story, when they actually mean “buy” and “purchase.”
  • The seller isn’t willing to provide any additional photos or videos of the puppy or answer any questions about the puppy’s parents or breeder.
  • The seller doesn't want to meet in person or let you see the puppy before you buy.
  • Their profile is unusually bare, with few friends and/or repetitive posts.

Tips for Avoiding a Puppy Scam

According to the Better Business Bureau, pet scam reports made up a third of all online scam reports made on their Scam Tracker in 2020 alone.

Photo of a golden puppy

With the consistent rise of scams, tactics grow more elaborate and you can no longer rely on just your gut. Scammers even specifically target popular breeds like Bulldogs and Pomeranians to take advantage of desperate buyers.

Follow the tips below to help you safely make pet purchases online and avoid a puppy scam:

1.   Only Deal With Sellers Willing to Meet in Person

It's tempting to simply complete all our transactions online, but that may not be the best when buying puppies.

You should always try to meet the puppy in person before you hand over any money. At the very least, get the seller to call you on video to show you the puppy.

2.   Watch Out for Unsolicited Email or Text Messages

Some puppy scammers target potential buyers via email or text messages. Try not to click on links or open any attachments unless you're sure they're safe.

3.   Double-check Their Credentials

Keep in mind that not everything you see is always true. Even if a website or email looks legit, you should still be wary. There are many ways puppy scammers can fake anything from a logo to a certificate.

Fortunately, there are also things you can do to try and verify the legitimacy of something. Try doing a reverse image search of their listing photos. If it shows up on one or more different sites, then the seller might be using stolen photos.

4.   Ask for Additional Puppy Photos and Videos

As an online buyer, it's your right to ask for current photos and videos of the puppy. Don't be afraid to request specific information not found in the original post.

5.   No Need to Rush a Puppy Purchase

Steer clear of anyone who tries to rush you into a decision without giving you time to think things through. A reputable breeder will understand if you want to take your time and make sure you're making the right decision.