How to Avoid a Puppy Scam

From Puppy Love to Heartbreak

As long as a dog remains man’s best friend, puppies will be a gift idea around the holidays.  Being fueled by the desire to make all of their family’s Christmas wishes come true, it is not surprising that some people may miss the red flags when purchasing a puppy online.  BBB urges parents to take precautions if they are seeking to place a big brown eyed, wiggling puppy wearing a big red bow under the Christmas tree. 

Puppy scams have been around a long time and fake puppy sellers have improved their approach over the years.  Now, BBB research shows the scheme can have two variations.

Taking you Twice

In both scenarios, the fake seller takes to the Internet and posts an ad to sell a certain breed of puppies.  There are pictures of adorable puppies to lure you in.  These photos are, more likely than not, stolen from the website of a legitimate breeder.  One can’t help but to fall in love with the photo of the adorable fuzzy pups.

When a buyer contacts the fake seller, they will request that payment be made through Western Union or MoneyGram.  This should be a big red flag.  After they take your money for the purchase of the puppy, the fake seller may disappear without you ever receiving the puppy. 

On the other hand, some phony online puppy sellers may try to take even more money from you.  Consumers have notified BBB via BBB’s Scam Tracker that they were subsequently approached by the seller for additional money for insurance.  In this instance, the seller claimed that the dog cannot be shipped until after the insurance company has been paid somewhere in the ballpark of $1000 to $1500!  Once a refund request is made, the seller quickly disappears with the initial payment.

The Expensive Crate

Other consumers have reported to BBB Scam Tracker, a slightly different version of the scam.  After paying the purchase price by Western Union, consumers report they received an email and telephone call from a “shipping company” that usually carries a name similar to a real shipping business.  The email and the telephone call is to inform consumers that the puppy needs a special temperature controlled crate to be transported and that the costs for shipment is somewhere between $700 and $850.  Of course, this payment too must be made by Western Union or MoneyGram.  In some instances, the shipper claims that a portion of this money will be refunded to you once the puppy is delivered.  This is only to entice the consumer to go through with the transaction.  The “shipper” will also tell consumers that failure to pay the funds immediately may result in the detention of the puppy and higher fees. 

Common Warning Signs

BBB cautions you to be careful when attempting to fulfil that Christmas wish of having a family dog.  If you are buying a puppy from an online seller, take precautions to verify the legitimacy of the seller. 

Beware of the following indicators of potential fraud:

  • Online puppy sellers who INSIST on using money transfer services.  These services are not 100% traceable or recoverable.
  • The seller lives in another country.  No matter what their story is, the request to wire money to another country to purchase a pup should cause you to pause.
  • Sellers who offer to sell you a puppy for far below the market value for the breed.  If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Sellers who refuse to send additional pictures or to meet you in person with the puppy.  Excuses for either request should raise a red flag.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

The purchase of a family pet is not one to be taken lightly.  Instead of a surprise, a fun alternative could be a family filed trip to the local shelter in order to assure the best fit for each family member.  For those who are really set on having this live Christmas present under the tree this year, don’t be left heartbroken, BBB offers the following tips when shopping for the puppy online:

  • Do your research.  Only purchase from a reputable breeder.  Scammers and puppy mills are rampant online and sometimes their schemes are not as easy to spot until it is too late.  Go to to check out the business before you make the purchase.
  • Educate yourself.  Online puppy scammers rely on your lack of knowledge.  You should not only educate yourself about the breed that you are purchasing but know the regulations for this type of purchase.  For instance, a phony out-of-state seller may tell you that the puppy will be delivered to your door once the airplane lands.  You should be aware that all dogs shipped by an airplane are required to be picked up at the airport.
  • Request Personalized Photos.  Yes, you saw those adorable pictures on the website that caused you to be interested.  Before you send the money, ask for additional photos and ask the seller to include something in the photo like your name written on a sheet of paper next to the puppy.
  • Report Puppy Scams.  If you spot a pet scam online, file a complaint the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, and/or your State Attorney General.

Merry Christmas.