Be on the lookout for online puppy scams if you have been considering adopting a furry family member. The decision to add any type of pet to the family does not come lightly. Most likely you have spent months researching certain breeds, behaviors, and energy levels that would be best suited for the size of your home and your family dynamic. If you find what appears to be the “perfect” pet, don’t let those puppy dog eyes fool you into falling for a scam.
A “ruff” rundown of the puppy scam tactic
A fraudster advertises a pet online, saying that it is available to a loving home. This could be a phony breeder claiming to have a litter of puppies, an advertisement found on an online marketplace requesting the need to re-home a popular breed, or even someone pretending to be a shelter that requires an application fee prior to visiting the animal. These convincing online communications will dupe people into sending money for what they believe to be pet deposits, adoption applications, re-homing fees, or transportation costs. Most likely the scammer is using stolen photos and the adoptable animal does not really exist, ultimately leaving your household out some hard-earned money with a sad tale, and without a tail.
If it looks like a dog and barks like a dog, it may not actually be a dog…
Become familiar with these red flags that may indicate the warning signs of a puppy scam.
- Discounted price – Do your research and understand ahead of time what fees are realistic. Shelters and rescue organizations tend to have lower adoption fees, but if you are communicating with someone who claims to have an in-demand breed for a discounted price, it could be a scam. Keep this in mind even if a breeder declares to have a “runt” available, or if an online marketplace advertisement claims that the animal needs to be re-homed immediately. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true – it probably is.
- Not available to meet in person – Scammers are taking advantage of our “new normal” knowing that many organizations are no longer allowing open adoption or visiting hours. If a website claims that you cannot visit in person prior to bringing home your pet, ask to set up a video chat to see the animal before sending any money for a deposit or application fee.
- Transportation Fees – It is no secret that people will search far and wide for the pet of their dreams, especially if they have their heart set on a specific breed. Proceed with caution if you are told that your new furry friend will be transported to you, rather than you needing to travel.
How to Avoid Being Bitten by a Puppy Scam
Research thoroughly and thoughtfully. Investigate the organization that has the animal listed for adoption. If dealing with an individual, make sure he or she is truly the breeder or handler they claim to be. Scammers often take information from other breeders or shelters to produce phony available pet listings.
There is never a reason to send money without visiting the animal shelter or meeting with the breeder in person, especially if the request is for a money transfer. Whatever situation you’re in, keep these tips in mind:
- Never pay for an animal you found on an online classified posting using a money transfer.
- Avoid any scenario that pressures you or requires you to act immediately. Use a cool head and take your time to evaluate the situation, even if they claim there is another family ready to adopt the pet you have fallen in love with.
- Watch for poorly written correspondence or advertisements that contain misspellings, improper use of language or unusual formatting.
- Never provide sensitive, personal identifying information to an unknown individual or entity, especially to persons who respond solely through email.
- Never send a money transfer to someone you haven’t met in person, no matter the circumstances.
- If you are communicating with a breeder or rescue outside of your area, ask for references that you may contact. A legitimate organization should be happy to provide you a list of satisfied pet-owners.
- Ask to set up a video chat if you are not able to meet in person.
- If you are curious if a photo is genuine and the animal is real, request an updated photo with a specific requirement, such as asking that the dog be photographed with a piece of paper containing today’s date. This prevents fraudsters from using stolen photos to make a listing look legitimate.
More information on scams and how to protect yourself is available at the Western Union Consumer Protection Center.