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Puppy scam warning from the Better Business Bureau

If you are shopping online for a pet this holiday season, watch out for scams. Complaints continue to pour into Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker as fake pet and puppy scams are on the increase.

Scammers know that few things pull at a person’s heartstrings like an adorable puppy. And as consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, they will be met with a slew of heart-tugging ads. A BBB study found that many of the ads are scams, and anyone looking online for a pet is extremely likely to encounter one. 


In the last three years, BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about “businesses” selling puppies and other pets.

YearEstimated complaints and scams pertain to pet fraud
20174,664 
20186,007 
2019 (Jan-Nov)5,879 
2019 (projected)6,466

How the Scam Works

You find an adorable puppy on a website or an online ad. Sometimes, scammers claim they are breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved dog. Either way, once you inquire about the pet, they ask you to wire money through such services as Western Union or Moneygram to complete the purchase.

The scammers who took Weber County resident Christa Robertson for a total of $2,800 followed this approach exactly. Robertson, trying to purchase 2 French bulldog puppies, paid for both of them online. 

Then, the “seller” promises your pet will be shipped right away. But there are always unexpected problems. Scammers use a variety of excuses, like saying the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance — all of which need to be paid in advance. With each problem, scammers promise that they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered.

For Robertson, the scammers asked her to pay an additional $1900 for two pressurized travel crates in addition to the adoption fee. She was informed she would be reimbursed the full amount upon delivery. She not only was never reimbursed but never received the puppies.

“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in highly emotional situations,” says Jane Rupp, president and CEO of BBB serving Northern Nevada and Utah. “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 along with hopes for a new family pet.”

Tips to Protect Yourself from Pet Scams:

  • Arrange an in-person visit. If possible, inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit.  If you can’t meet in person, ask for FaceTime or Skype videos that show the puppies throughout their early growth.
  • Always pay with a credit card. Never send money via Western Union and Moneygram to people or companies you don’t know and trust. Once the money is wired, it is gone for good. The same goes for prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. If anyone asks you to pay for anything with a gift card, you may be dealing with fraud. Petscams.com has also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system.
  • Reverse search for the image. Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
  • Research breed prices. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.
  • Check out the website. Go to petscams.com to see if a site selling pets is bogus. 
  • Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and do an internet search on the breeder’s or organization’s name.
  • If you have been a victim or see a puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

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