BBB of Southern Colorado warns: Online pet sales scams on the rise

October 05, 2017

Pet scams are currently 12.5 percent of all online purchase fraud reported to BBB.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., Oct. 5, 2017 – Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado (BBB) warns consumers that fraudulent online sales of pets are on the rise. As more consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, more scams are popping up online. According to the American Humane Society, 62 percent of all U.S. households own a pet.

BBB Scam Tracker has 907 reports on this type of fraud, which represents 12.5 percent of all online purchase fraud reported. One consumer report is from the Colorado Springs area. A Federal Trade Commission report found 37,000 complaints involving pets, of which the vast majority is believed to be puppy sale scams. FTC finds that less than 10 percent of victims of fraud actually complain, indicating that these numbers only hint at the size of the scheme.

“Pet ownership is extremely popular, and pets are often considered a new member of the family,” said Gina Sacripanti, vice president of marketing and public relations. “We want to inform our community of the growing number of pet scams seen across the U.S. and internationally.”

In a new report conducted by the BBB International Investigations Initiative, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.

The FTC and BBB have found that most victims lose between $100 and $1,000.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • At least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.
  • Many of the pets marketed online do not exist, or at least not as advertised.
  • The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
  • The thieves will continue asking for additional payments until the prospective buyer refuses further requests.
  • While victims can be of any age, reports show that those most susceptible to the scheme are in their late teens or early 20s.
  • Doing an internet search of the advertised picture may help identify fraudulent offers.

BBB offers the following tips to consumers looking to purchase a pet:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Visit the breeder.
  • Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud.
  • Search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site. You can also do a reverse image search through Google.
  • Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
  • Check references.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer.
  • Research pet adoption requirements in your area. Get a good grasp on what fees, permits, and licenses are required by your local government and know whether they should be collected by the seller or government.
  • The Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters. They also have tips for finding a reputable breeder.
  • Learn about fraud in your area at BBB Scam Tracker.

What if you have been a victim of a puppy scam?

  • File a report with BBB’s Scam Tracker.
  • File a complaint at
  • Complain to the Federal Trade Commission. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
  • Homeland Security Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security also handles international fraud. Call 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada).
  • If you sent money through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak, contact those companies directly for information about the transactions. They also download their complaints into the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database, which police around the country can access. 
    Green Dot 800-795-7597
    Western Union 1-800-448-1492
    MoneyGram 1-800-926-9400

Since August of 1980, Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado has helped consumers find businesses, brands, and charities they can trust. It serves 25 counties throughout Southern Colorado.

BBB of Southern Colorado sets standards for marketplace trust – to create a community of trustworthy businesses and charities – by encouraging and supporting best practices, educating consumers and businesses, celebrating business role models, and calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior.

BBB of Southern Colorado houses nearly 40,000 reviews on companies in the region. In 2016, it processed 2,660 complaints and had 1.67 million page views on its website. All company and charity reports are available for free online.

For more information, visit BBB of Southern Colorado, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

Becca Tonn