How to Spot a Puppy Scam Online (10 Signs to Look For)


Over the past few years of the global pandemic, pet ownership has risen worldwide. Unfortunately, increased demand has also come with an increase in people looking to scam potential new pet owners. One estimate suggests a 165% increase in reported puppy scams in 2021 versus the same period in 2019. If you’re shopping for a new puppy online, chances are you’ll encounter a scam at some point. Here are 10 signs to look for to help you spot a puppy scam online.

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The 10 Signs of Online Puppy Scams

1. Multiple Breeds for Sale

Reputable breeders typically focus on a single breed only and try to produce the best specimens they can to improve the breed’s genetics. One sign that you’re dealing with an online puppy scam is finding a seller who offers multiple breeds for sale.

Sometimes, the same scammer posts multiple ads for different breeds, making it harder for you to connect the dots. Try searching the email address associated with a suspected scammer to see if they have more than one ad posted.

Puppies Playing
Image Credit: 825545, Pixabay

2. Rock Bottom Prices

Responsible breeding is an expensive operation, and the price of the puppies generally reflects the care involved with producing them. If you find a puppy for sale at a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Check with reputable sources, such as the AKC Marketplace, to determine the usual price for puppies of your chosen breed. Ads that promise much lower prices or sellers who try to negotiate their prices are most likely scammers.


3. The Seller Won’t Talk on the Phone or Meet

If a potential puppy seller only communicates through email or messaging, you’re most likely dealing with a scam. A legitimate breeder will be happy to talk to you on the phone, via Zoom, or even to meet in person because they have nothing to hide.

Scammers are often located in other countries and can only communicate in ways that conceal their identities, like email. Sometimes, scammers will impersonate real breeders online, and limiting the means of communication is one way to keep the fraud intact.

Woman on computer doing research
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

4. Puppy Photos Appear on Multiple Sites

Because scammers are trying to get money for a puppy that doesn’t exist, they often use stock or stolen photos in their ads. A major red flag that you’re dealing with a puppy scam is if the pictures in the ad appear in multiple locations on the internet.

You can quickly check if this is the case by performing a reverse image search. Sometimes, scammers will use the exact wording in their ads as well. Search the text itself to see if it was copied from another site or used in multiple ads.


5. Just Pay for Shipping

Sometimes, puppy scammers offer the animal for free and only ask potential owners to pay for shipping. Generally, they also continue to add additional costs on top of the “shipping.”

For example, they might ask you to pay for expensive travel insurance or a special crate for the puppy. Some reputable breeders may ship their puppies, but they typically will lay out the entire cost ahead of time rather than give you one quote and then start adding more expenses.

Man on computer holding a card
Image Credit: rupixen, Pixabay

6. Unusual Payment Methods

Be wary of any puppy seller who asks you to wire them money or pay for your new dog in gift cards. In general, you should avoid using any payment method without fraud protection or at least an easy way to get your money back if you fall victim to a scam.

As we mentioned, many puppy scammers are located outside the United States and can only get money from you by wire or other unusual payment methods.


7. No Option to Pick Up in Person

Responsible dog breeders generally want prospective owners to meet their new puppy and may even want to visit your home to ensure it’s a good fit for the animal. Many will only sell a puppy to a new owner who can pick their pet up in person.

Truthfully, you shouldn’t buy a puppy you haven’t met because you want to ensure it will be a good match for your family. If a seller insists they must ship the puppy to you and there’s no chance for you to pick it up in person, you’re probably dealing with a scam.

puppies in a puppy mill
Image Credit: 2690457, Pixabay

8. Seller Tells a Sad or Dramatic Tale

Puppy scammers will often try to guilt people into falling for their scheme by telling a sad or dramatic story about why they are selling the dog. For example, the puppy belonged to a family member who passed away, or the family had to move and couldn’t take the puppy.

The more complicated and woeful the story, the more you should suspect a puppy scam. Also, be suspicious of people who claim they aren’t breeders but need to sell an accidental litter of puppies.


9. No Refunds

Responsible breeders will typically have a clear policy for health guarantees, refunds, or even the return of a puppy if the new owner can’t keep them. They’ll also be knowledgeable about the puppy’s family health history and which screening tests the parents had before breeding.

Puppy scammers usually won’t offer refunds for puppies with health issues and won’t be able to answer questions about their health. However, clever scammers may use stolen health information to fool you.

sad-looking puppy closeup
Image credit: Bharathi Kannan, Unsplash

10. Refund of Fees When You Receive the Puppy

Sometimes, scammers will ask for extra fees up-front and claim that you’ll receive a partial refund once the puppy arrives. For example, they’ll ask you to pay for insurance or faster shipping and promise to pay you back once you receive the puppy.

Sometimes, they may even pressure or threaten you with this extra money. A reputable breeder will let you know all the costs involved in buying or shipping your puppy ahead of time and won’t pressure you for more.

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Conclusion

One of the easiest ways to avoid falling victim to an online puppy scam is to adopt your new pet from a local animal shelter or rescue group. If you have your heart set on buying a specific breed, try to find a local breeder so that you can visit and see the breeding set up for yourself.

Ask your vet for suggestions, check the AKC Marketplace, or ask local owners where they purchased their dogs. Remember, reputable breeders should always be happy to answer all your questions and have you visit your new puppy before you agree to purchase.


Featured Image Credit: Jus_Ol, Shutterstock



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