It’s a fact: Puppies are super adorable. Just one look at a puppy’s face is enough to melt almost anyone’s heart. You just want to pick them up, give them a hug, and then give them a loving home.
Unfortunately, there are some scammers out there who take advantage of our love of puppies to commit fraud. According to statistics cited by the American Kennel Club (AKC), “nearly 10,000 scam reports and complaints have come in during the last three years about ‘businesses’ selling puppies and dogs.” These puppy scams can cause not only financial loss, but they can be heartbreaking for prospective pet owners who only wanted to give an adorable pet a good home.
Learning how to identify pet scams is a necessity if you’re going to look for puppies online. How can you avoid online puppy scams? Here are a few tips to help you out:
1) Learn How Fake Puppy for Sale Scams Work
The International Pet and Animal Transportation Association (IPATA) cautions pet shoppers to watch out for the different steps of online puppy scams. Knowing how these pet scams work can help you identify fake pet shipping companies:
- The Scammer Offers a Free Dog. Free dog scams are a common type of scam. This is because scammers know that many people start their online search with terms like “Cheap or free puppies for sale.” So, many fake pet shipping companies start by offering a “free” puppy to a good home.
- The Scammer Offers a Discounted Price for Shipping. The scammer claims that they’re going to send the pet directly to you for just the cost of shipping, or even offer a discount on standard pet shipping rates. They may often claim that they’re only doing this because of a loss in the family (such as saying that they bought the pet for a child who died shortly afterward).
- The Scammer Starts Asking for Money to Cover Additional Costs. After getting their victim on the proverbial hook, the puppy scammer will start asking for money to cover “unexpected fees” that they didn’t know about when they agreed to ship the puppy to you. The IPATA article notes that the scammer may say that “the airline is requiring a temperature-controlled crate, shipping insurance, additional paperwork or shots, etc.” The scammer will then try to keep their target on the hook and sending money for as long as possible.
2) Check a Seller Against a Puppy Scammer List
Some organizations, like the IPATA, keep a puppy scammer list that you can use to identify potential pet scams. Checking these lists to see if the person offering you that adorable puppy for a super-low shipping cost is listed as a fake pet shopping company can help you avoid a scam.
However, it’s important to note that these lists are far from comprehensive. Pet scammers can easily create new emails for themselves whenever they want. So, it’s important to keep an eye out for pet scam red flags.
3) Keep an Eye Out for Puppy Scam Red Flags
Aside from knowing how free dog scams work, keeping an eye out for the following red flags can help you identify (and avoid) a puppy scam:
- The Seller Uses Stock Photos of Dogs. Many free dog and puppy mill scams advertise their dogs with stock images that you can find on other websites. This is an immediate red flag that the pets being “sold” are fake and that you should avoid that seller. How can you tell if the image is a stock photo? Check it using a reverse image search. You can do this easily in Google Chrome by right-clicking on a picture on the puppy seller’s website and clicking on “Search Google for image.”
- The Seller Asks for Unusual Payment Methods. Most legitimate businesses take credit cards or checks—payment methods where your bank may be able to reverse the charges if you discover that you’ve fallen victim to an online puppy scam. So, many scammers will ask for payment using alternative methods, such as gift cards or wired money transfers that can’t be reversed.
- The Cost is Too Good to Be True. Free dog scams work because people love getting a good deal almost as much as they love puppies—and these scams combine the two. However, before jumping on that offer for a free dog, be sure to consider that if the price is too good to be true, that might be a warning sign of a pet scam.
4) Go to Your Local Shelter or a Reputable Pet Store to Adopt Pets
The easiest way to avoid an online puppy scam is to simply go to your local pet shelter or to a reputable pet store to adopt a pet. By going to a shelter, you’re taking in a pet that needs a loving family. You’re also discouraging the practice of puppy breeding mills by adopting from a shelter.
At most shelters, the cost of adopting a puppy (or kitten; admit it, they’re cute too) is extremely small—it often only just barely covers the cost of getting their shots taken care of. These adoption fees are typically a fraction of what you’d pay for shipping a “free” puppy from fake pet shipping companies, and you have the benefit of knowing that you’re helping a real pet who needs a good home.
5) Use PuppySpot Online
Looking for a particular breed that you can’t find at the shelter and afraid of being scammed by a puppy mill? Try PuppySpot, an American Kennel Club (AKC)-authorized service that helps you find the perfect puppy by vetting breeders through a comprehensive, proprietary 100+ point screening process that goes far beyond USDA and state regulations. PuppySpot provides health checks (or “nose-to-tail” checks) and will even arrange to have your new puppy brought to you.
Already have a pet that you need to ship safely from one city to another? Call (877) My-PetCab today to talk about your pet shipping needs!