Setting out to bring a new fuzzy member into your family may seem like a dream — and there are many wonderful things about doing so — but it's important to be cautious throughout the process. Not only should you avoid unethical puppy mills, but there is also a risk of unsuspecting buyers being scammed. Below, find some of the most common puppy scams, as well as a brief guide on safe and ethical puppy shopping.
Common Internet Puppy Scams
• The Rare Breed Scam: You've searched forever for a specific kind of breed — one that's hard to find, expensive, and seemingly nonexistent. You eventually come across an ad with that perfect puppy you've been searching for – there may even be pictures of the dog, and the seller is hospitable and quick to respond to any questions. However, you notice that the seller doesn't live anywhere near you, and they require a wire money transfer (not check or online payment system). From here, you either never hear from the seller again, or they may insist that something is wrong and needs to be addressed before completing the transaction (such as providing extra funds for a new crate or shipping insurance). After the back-and-forth and repetitive transfers, you will never receive the puppy, and the seller will stop responding.
• The Free/Low Cost Puppy Scam: This is very similar to the above scam, only the seller says that the puppy is "free to a good home" or that they're selling a well-known breed for an unimaginably low price. They use convincing language, referring to the pets as their "babies" or have a sad story about why they must give their puppy away, begging you to take good care of their pet. Like above, the seller is not located nearby and requests wire transfers for shipping costs or the low fee. Again, they may say the money didn't go through or that there was a problem and request a second transfer; suddenly, you never hear from them again.
• The Bait and Switch Scam: This scenario typically occurs when you're looking for a specific breed. The seller will provide some photos of the puppy, answer your questions, and fool you with false details from a legitimate animal shipping company. After sending the funds, you do actually receive a puppy, but it is not the puppy from the pictures. It may not even be the same breed! You will either have a very difficult time returning the puppy, or you may never hear from the seller again. You're also left with the heartbreaking task of rehoming a pup you didn't set out to adopt, should you choose not to keep her.
• The False Sanctuary Scam: In this scam, the seller indicates that they're selling puppies from a rescue house or sanctuary. However, their adoption fees are astronomical and they've justified the costs to you. You may get the right kind of puppy shipped to you, but it could actually be from a puppy mill or another unethical operation!
A Quick Guide to Safe and Ethical Puppy Shopping
Simply being aware of the above scams will help you avoid being taken advantage of as you search for a new puppy. Still, the people on the other end can be very convincing, and it may be difficult to differentiate the truth from the scam while in the middle of your heartfelt search. To prevent being ripped off or misled, adhere to these guidelines:
• Always Buy or Adopt in Person: Even if you have searched online for the perfect puppy, make sure you exchange cash and puppy in person. Even offer to fly out to the location if they're not located near you. If the seller cannot accommodate this very basic request, it very well could be a scam.
• Check Their Spelling and Grammar: It sounds silly, but many puppy scams have been conducted by people who do not live in the USA and, as such, the scammer may not speak English very well. The ad will often be riddled with spelling errors, odd sentence construction, or grammatical errors.
• Ask Detailed Questions: Whether you suspect it's a scam or not, make sure you ask plenty of relevant, detailed questions. For example, ask for medical documents, images of the puppy from different angles or a video, the puppy's exact age and information about its parents, etc. If the seller cannot answer these questions or deflects the requests, it is likely a scam.
• Never Wire Money: Pay with a money order or cash in person, and never wire the money. Wire transfers cannot be refunded, and you cannot report it as a scam with money wiring services. If the seller agrees to meet with you but requests money first, do not comply.
• Always Buy from a Reputable Source: Extensively research the seller to ensure it is a reputable person. Find reviews, google their email address and text from the ad to see if anything comes up, do a reverse search on the telephone number's area code to see if it matches the indicated location, complete a reverse image search on the puppy image from the ad, and ask for details about the shipping company they plan to use. If they say they're from a certain sanctuary or rescue house, call, visit or vet that location and ask about the details of the puppy you found online.
• Avoid Puppy Mills: There's an ensuing dilemma with puppy mills. While you may be rescuing the puppy from deplorable conditions, by purchasing an animal from a mill, you're actively supporting that industry. Signs you're dealing with a puppy mill include certain breeds being available in large quantities, "new" breeds, the seller being unable to verify veterinarian information, puppies sold before they turn eight weeks old, and the same person or organization selling pets at multiple events, including flea markets and garage sales. Find more red flags listed here.
A good way to make sure you're shopping ethically — and to avoid being scammed — is to shop local, meaning in person at local foster homes and rescues. These locations offer puppies who truly need a good home (even if they may not be a "rare breed") and they are regulated and safe. As soon as you've safely adopted your favorite pup from a reputable source, go ahead and start stockpiling all the toys and treats their heart desires – and don't forget to sign up for puppy insurance.