12 Puppy Scam Red Flags to Watch Out For

What's more endearing than a sweet new puppy who promises to be your most loyal best friend? They are so irresistibly cute and lovable, it's no wonder so many people are purchasing and adopting puppies. Unfortunately, scammers are always taking advantage of what people are after. This means that with higher puppy sales, there comes a higher rate of scams as well. And we're calling out 12 online puppy scam red flags for you to be aware of so that you don't become a victim.

Getting a puppy is an emotional experience. You see a photo of a sweet pup that seems to be begging to be friends and come home to you. Next thing you know, you are needing to have the puppy and are willing to do almost anything to have it. This has the potential to put you in a position of overlooking some of the red flags that come with the listing.

To avoid having this happen to you, it's always good to keep a clear head and save the emotion until you actually meet a puppy in person. The easiest way to avoid a scam is to not purchase a puppy online at all. However, if you find yourself scanning the ads, it's good to know the red flags to watch out for with any online listing. Here is a list of the most common ways to spot an online puppy scam.

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What Is a Puppy Scam?

Puppy scammers are people posing to be sellers of purebred puppies but don't actually have any. They may claim to be a breeder or a representative from an animal shelter to entice people. Once they have a victim hooked, they require payment to ship the desired puppy to the buyer. The only problem is that the buyer never receives the puppy because none ever existed in the first place.

Online puppy scammers use stock photos or even photos of other people's pets to represent the non-existent puppy they are selling. Typically, they will copy some of the wording from actual breeder ads and claim that they have registration certificates and vet records. They may even try to sound reputable by requiring that the buyer meet some qualifications, such as a fenced yard, before agreeing to sell to them.

One thing is for sure, the scammers sound legit enough to fool more than 50,000 people from 2019 until the fall of 2022 and that number just keeps growing, according to the Better Business Bureau.

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12 Puppy Scam Red Flags

1. Ad Is Posted on Craigslist

If you see an ad for a purebred puppy for sale on Craigslist, it should be researched further. Most good dog breeders don't need to advertise in this way since they typically have a waiting list of potential buyers. However, if you do see a puppy for sale on Craigslist that looks intriguing, you can always look into the seller more deeply with some important questions and get some references.

2. The Seller Wants to Ship the Puppy

A good breeder will never want to ship a puppy since this could be traumatizing to the young dog. If the seller wants to take your money with an agreement to ship, it is most likely a scam.

3. The Price Seems Too Good To Be True

It's important to know the average cost of purchasing the particular breed of dog that you are looking for. That way, you can spot a good deal when price-comparing breeders. The problem comes in when a seller offers a price much lower than average. It may seem like you struck gold but watch out. Deeply discounted prices on purebred puppies are most likely frauds.

4. Their Social Media Page Seems Fishy

Often, fake breeders will post about their available dogs in Facebook groups or on their own pages, yet, when you look at their profiles, there's important information that's not listed and/or something just seems really off.

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5. The Seller Claims To Represent an Animal Shelter

It may sound legit if a seller claims to be from an animal shelter offering puppies for adoption. However, animal shelters don't set up adoptions in this way. A reputable shelter will require that you fill out an application and can only adopt a puppy if you get approved.

6. You Can't Communicate With the Seller by Phone

If you can only communicate with the seller through email, it is most likely a scam. A legit seller will want to communicate by phone if they can't meet you in person and may even require a video chat. Even with that, most breeders will want to meet you in person. If a "seller" doesn't want to communicate by phone, one possible reason is that they could be located in another country entirely.

7. Requires an Odd Form of Payment

You can pretty much guarantee that you are dealing with a scammer if they require payment in gift cards. Other forms of payment that they may accept that are different from normal transactions are wire transfers or an app like Venmo.

8. Puppy Is Free and You Pay Shipping

Another tactic that some puppy scammers might use as a way to entice you is to offer the puppy for free. The only catch is that you need to pay for the shipping. Breeders would never work this way and would certainly not need to advertise if they were giving away purebreds for free.

9. More Fees Keep Popping up After the Initial Payment

Once a puppy scammer gets you to send the first payment for the puppy, they will want even more money. They will have added costs for shipping or vet bills that they will want you to pay before they ship the puppy to you.

10. Seller Claims to Not Be a Breeder

If you are looking for a purebred puppy, it's natural to try and find a breeder. However, another way that scammers try to sound legit is to say that they are not a breeder. Instead, they say that they have a purebred dog that just had puppies and they need to find homes for them. This way, they don't have to have any actual credentials and it makes you think that you fell into a good deal.

11. Long Distance Seller

Puppy scammers will typically not be available for seeing in person since they live a long distance away. In fact, many times scammers will claim to be missionaries from another country who can't keep the puppy because the climate is too warm.

12. Breeder Badges

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the AKC does not distribute breeder badges, so anyone who claims that they have one from this organization is not being truthful.

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How to Safely Purchase or Adopt a Puppy Online

1. Look at Reviews

A legitimate breeder will have lots of reviews and references to look at—providing even more references from other pet parents if you are interested.

2. Meet in Person

Even if you find a puppy seller online, make sure to meet the person before transacting. Buy local so that you can meet and transact in person. Or, be willing to travel—and breeders should be more than happy to schedule something with you.

3. Ask a Lot of Questions

A breeder will be able to answer questions about how to care for the puppy and who the parents are. They should be more than happy and willing to answer whatever you want to know, and will likely have some questions of their own to make sure that you are a good match for the puppy as well.

4. Don't Make an Immediate Decision

Puppy scammers will most likely put some pressure on the sale to get you to act quickly, choosing to show impatience rather than getting you the answers or information you're asking for. This is not true of real breeders.

5. Get Documentation

According to the AKC, "Ensure that before leaving with your puppy, you will receive documentation of your dog’s papers. The words “American Kennel Club” as well as the AKC logo should be clearly visible."

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