How To Avoid An Online Puppy Scam

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Man holding smartphone with Craigslist ad for puppy (caption: How To Avoid Puppy Purchase Scams)

Buying a puppy online can quickly turn into you spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars but still being dogless. How? Because con artists are running puppy scams and getting away with it. Follow our suggestions to avoid being their next victim.

Article Overview

Puppy Scam Stats

Puppy fraud is on the rise during the pandemic and especially around the holidays when people are more vulnerable. analyzed data from The Better Business Bureau to determine which states had the most online puppy scams this year.

Key Findings:

  • From January 1, 2021, to October 31, 2021, there were 3,000 puppy scams reported – 165% more puppy scams in the U.S. than during the same time period in pre-pandemic 2019.
  • California reported 345 cases making it the #1 state with the most reported puppy scams.
  • California lost over a quarter of a million dollars to puppy scams, with the average money lost per victim totaling $733.69.
  • Texas, Florida, and New York follow closely behind, with scam victims in these states on average losing more than $700, though Texas stands out with its $913.20 total.
  • Michigan has the most money lost per fraud. Scam victims lost on average $1,097 in this state.
  • Regarding the number of scams per 100K people, Montana tops the list at 1.94 cons per 100,000 residents.
  • Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, and Washington are the only states in the Top 15 for most puppy scams overall and the Top 15 for most reported puppy scams per 100,000 people.

How To Avoid Puppy Scams

The most obvious way to avoid a puppy scam? Don’t purchase a pet online. However, there are other steps you can take to make sure you don’t get scammed.

Adopt From A Shelter

We’re strong advocates for adoption. There are many shelters and organizations you can adopt through, and if you need a recommendation, ask your vet, family, friends, and neighbors.

Kopa adoption page on Petfinder

Just because a dog is in a shelter doesn’t mean they come with “baggage.” Many dogs wind up in shelters because the owner is moving and can’t take the dog with them. The dog was found and never claimed. Adopting a dog was too much responsibility for the owner. And other reasons that have nothing to do with the dog’s behavior.

If a purebred or specific breed is your heart’s desire, don’t be deterred from adopting. Many dogs need adoption, and some rescue groups are dedicated to finding homes for specific breeds or purebreds.

Purebred Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Well-Bred

If you have your heart set on a purebred dog, but you aren’t finding one through a shelter, you want to make sure you’re buying from a legitimate breeder. (Take a look at this PDF from the Humane Society about finding a responsible dog breeder.) Legitimate dog breeders provide quality vet care for the animals, food, and sanitary kenneling.

Many unprofessional breeders are trying to make extra cash but are unwilling to put in the time and money to breed good purebreds. It’s expensive to raise well-bred purebreds; therefore, they cost more to buy.

Never Buy A Dog From Craigslist

It’s okay to search Craigslist for dog listings from reputable organizations, but we don’t recommend buying off the site itself. If you think you’re getting a purebred dog that’s well-bred from Craigslist, you’re not. Good breeders don’t need to post on Craigslist. They often have waiting lists and don’t need to search for buyers.

Research The Seller Extensively

If you must purchase a dog online, search the seller’s name and contact information with the words scam and complaint (e.g., John Doe [email protected] scam) to see if they’re on a puppy scammer list.

Canine con artists are good at what they do, and they’re known for changing their names. So be aware that it can be just as bad if you search their name and come up with nothing.

Ask the seller for references and follow up with those references. Ask them about their experience with the seller.

Meet & Pick Up The Dog Yourself

Litter of puppies

You should be able to meet the seller and dog in person, visit their place of business, collect all vet papers, and obtain documentation for proof of your purchase. If the seller doesn’t want you to see the dog’s housing, that’s a red flag. Not to mention you should always meet a dog in advance to make sure he’s a good fit for your lifestyle. Choosing a dog based on his photo alone is like buying a house and never stepping foot inside.

Don’t Wire Money Or Send Prepaid Cards

You may think you’re “securing” your claim for a dog by wiring a “deposit” or full payment in advance, but, really, you’re getting scammed. Wiring money is like paying in cash; there’s no way to trace it back. A professional breeder won’t ask you to wire them money and then ship their valuable puppy off to someone they’ve never met.

Breeders care about their dogs and want them to go to good homes. It’s equally vital for you to find a dog that can mesh well in your life as it is for the breeder to find a comfortable home for each dog.

If the seller refuses refunds, that’s another red flag. Legitimate breeders will offer to help if a problem arises — that often includes taking a dog back or finding it a new home.

Puppyhood Is The Best Time To Consider Pet Insurance

Dog At Vet (caption: Is Pet Insurance Worth It?)

As a puppy, your dog has probably not shown any significant health concerns at a young age. Since pet insurance companies do not cover pre-existing conditions, the younger your dog is when you signup, the better coverage you will likely receive throughout their lifetime. Further, pet insurance can help support you financially during the unpredictable puppy years when dogs are more likely to chew on things they shouldn’t and run into dangerous situations. Check out our pet insurance 101 guide to learn more and determine whether pet insurance is worth it for your puppy.

9 Signs Of A Puppy Scam

  1. Prices are too good to be true, or the price is negotiable, on sale, or at a discounted price
  2. Puppy is free if you pay for shipping
  3. The seller won’t talk on the phone and only communicates through emails or texts
  4. The only way to get the puppy is to have it shipped to you, and you can’t pick it up
  5. You must pay by money transfer or prepaid debit card
  6. There are suddenly more expenses after you make a payment (e.g., shipping insurance, vet bills, crate fees, etc.)
  7. The seller tells you a sad story about why the puppy is for sale for reasons such as family hardship, relocation, or death
  8. If the seller says something like, “We’re not breeders. Our dog just had puppies, so we’re trying to find them a good home.” A red flag that it’s a potential scam.
  9. The puppy’s photo is in other ads (discovered when you do a reverse image search)

Signs Of A Puppy Scam Infographic

Infographic: Puppy scams

What If I Think Someone Is Running A Puppy Scam?

If you think someone is running a puppy scam, file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.

Dog DNA Tests Can Confirm Dog Breed

If you’re concerned about the breed make-up you want to buy, you could conduct a DNA test on the dog. Many breeders will even do this ahead of time to validate their claims, and so you can see the results for yourself. We’ve reviewed the Best Dog DNA Tests, including pros, cons, and more for each test. Another more detailed and scientific option to verify the history provided by a breeder is to get a parentage test from EasyDNA, which promises to show the pedigree of a dog with 99.99% accuracy.

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The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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