A THINKING OF BUYING a puppy online? Be
aware that consumers have been bilked out of
hundreds or thousands of dollars by online
puppy scams. Ads for these cons typically lure
you in with cute photos, low prices and promises,
but once you send money to pay for a pup, the
seller disappears and you’re left with a flatter
wallet and no dog. There are variations of this
scheme, but, in general, here are the signs of a
• Prices are too-good-to-be-true low, or the
seller offers discount, sale or negotiable prices.
• A puppy is offered at no cost if you pay for
• The seller only emails or texts and doesn’t
talk on the phone.
• You are told you can’t pick
up the puppy in person; it can
only be shipped.
• The seller only accepts payment by money transfer or pre-paid debit card.
• After an initial payment is
made, a “sudden problem” arises
that leads to you being asked for
more money to cover additional
costs like crate fees, shipping
insurance or vet bills.
• You’re told the puppy will
die if you don’t pay, or the seller
threatens to turn you in for animal abuse or neglect.
• The seller sends a rambling, ungrammatical email that
includes a sad story of why a
puppy is being sold, such as a
family hardship, relocation or death.
• The puppy’s image appears in other ads
when you do a reverse image search.
The easiest way to steer clear of this doggie
deception is to avoid online pet purchases altogether. Here are some other general tips to help
you avoid these scams and bring home a new best
Choose to adopt. Many different types of
puppies can be adopted at a local shelter or
through an organization. If you want a specific
breed, there are rescue groups passionate about
finding homes for purebreds. If you don’t know
where to go, ask a reputable veterinarian or dog
trainer for a referral. Consulting a reputable dog
trainer who can advise you on choosing a puppy
is your best bet. Overall, it’s suggested that you
choose a pooch that has compatible energy with
you and your family members (including any
existing pets) over focusing on breed.
Do your research. If you insist on buying a
puppy online, search the seller’s name, email
address and address with the word “scam” or
“complaint.” Keep in mind that some con artists
change names regularly to continue to run their
ruse, so it could be a red flag if you don’t find any
information online about a seller. Ask for and
check references, and talk to others who have
purchased puppies from the seller.
Pick up in person. A responsible seller
should welcome you to come to their place of
business to meet them and the puppy. Ensure the
seller has veterinary paper work; you can call the
veterinarian to verify it. Get proof of your purchase with the seller’s complete contact information on it.
Don’t wire money. A sure sign of a puppy
scam is if a seller pressures you
to use a money transfer service, such as Western Union or
MoneyGram, as the only form
of payment. Money transfers
are virtually the same as sending cash. Typically, there is no
way you can reverse the transaction or trace the money.
Cash reload packs like Green
Dot MoneyPak come with the
same risks: Transactions cannot be reversed.
If you suspect someone is
running a puppy scam or if you
or someone you know becomes
the victim of one, file a complaint with your state attorney
general’s office and with the
Federal Trade Commission
ftc.gov). To find a list of state
attorneys general, click the “Attorneys General”
tab at the website of the National Association of
Attorneys General (
Paws before buying
Don’t get dogged by a puppy scam
Amanda Horowitz is a writer,
businesswoman and owner
of Fight Back! She is the
daughter of Fight Back’s
founder, David Horowitz.
Fight Back! has received
multiple Emmy Awards
and awards from more than
;;; government and citizen
groups and has helped to
draft over ;; pieces of con-sumer-related legislation in
the United States.
Horowitz can be contacted
Please include “Consumer
Connection” in the subject
line. She will select questions
to answer in this column
but regrets that unpublished
questions cannot be answered
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Please note that Amanda Horowitz
and Fight Back! are not licensed
professionals in any field. If you are
seeking professional advice, you should
consult with your own licensed
professional. Amanda Horowitz and
Fight Back! do not assume any liability
or responsibility for the interpretation,
application, or accuracy of any
FIGH T BACK! TIP
SOME CONSUMERS are turning to pet loans to
help finance a new pooch. These loans allow
decisions based on feelings in the moment rather
than discernment. If you decide to enter into one
of these contracts, make sure you thoroughly
understand the terms before you sign so that you
know exactly what you’re agreeing to. Be aware
that you could end up paying somewhere around
two to three times the original cost of the puppy
over time. In some cases, consumers have signed
what they thought was a loan, only to discover it
was actually a lease.
As a general rule, if you can’t pay for the
puppy you want in full, upfront, whether you’re
adopting or buying, it probably isn’t the right time
to get it. The initial price of a puppy is just the
beginning of the financial commitment.—AH