Pet adoption scams on the rise

Be cautious of imposters who are luring in their victims with fake furry friends

As warmer weather arrives and the end of the school year approaches, many American families are likely to be considering adding a four-legged friend to their households. Adopting a pet is usually a time of celebration and excitement. However, if you are not careful, fraudsters can take advantage of your eagerness to adopt that adorable puppy and scam you out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Since the beginning of 2017, Fraud.org has received dozens of complaints from consumers about fraudulent puppy sales. In a typical pet adoption scam, a consumer will see an advertisement for an animal, most commonly a dog, accompanied by heartwarmingly cute pictures. The puppy seller will usually claim to be far away, but will offer to ship the puppy to the new owner’s location. Unfortunately for the buyer, the fraudster doesn’t truly have any puppies for sale and is just sending pictures of puppies found on the Internet. Once the buyer sends the money, the fraudster will come up with extra fees like crate rentals, pet insurance, vet bills, and unexpected shipping costs that must be paid before the “puppy” can be delivered to its new home. As long as the victim is willing to pay, the scammer will continue adding on new fees. Additionally, the fraudster typically uses untraceable wire transfers so once the consumer catches on, their money is long gone.

A woman from Alabama recently shared her puppy scam story with Fraud.org. After wiring $500 to purchase a puppy online, the seller requested $50 for shipping. When the time came to ship the puppy, “they wanted an additional $400 for health insurance” to cover the dog during transport. After that, the seller then wanted more money for “special airport gate” fees. After the seller's last request, the woman realized she was being scammed and stopped sending money.

Unfortunately, puppy sale scams remain popular among fraudsters. To avoid becoming a victim to a pet adoption scam, there are several steps a consumer should take:

  1. Skip the pure breed puppy requirement and adopt from a local shelter. There are an abundance of reputable non-profit animal shelters out there to choose from. By choosing to adopt your new family member instead, you will not only protect yourself from fraud, you will also benefit a worthy cause.

  2. Always meet your future pet in person before paying. Fraudsters will come up with a million reasons why you can’t see the pet in person and will offer you pictures instead. Insist on seeing the pet in person. If the seller will not allow you to see the animal in person, it's almost certainly a scam.

  3. Never wire money for any purchase. If the seller asks for payment via wire transfer, that’s a big red flag of fraud. Also beware of requests to pay by reloadable prepaid card, iTunes gift card, or another unusual payment method.

  4. Do your research. Websites and postings that fraudsters use can appear to be realistic because they steal photos and language from reputable breeders. Try copying some text from their page and pasting it into a search engine in quotes and see if another breeder uses that same language. If another website uses the same or similar language, you may be dealing with a scammer.

  5. Check references. Do your own due diligence about the background of the seller. A good place to start is the American Kennel Club and the Humane Society of the United States.

  6. Don’t trust “free pet” offers. Fraudsters will sometimes use the offer of a “free pet to a good home,” as a way to ensnare an adopter into paying for made up vet bills or fake shipping costs.

  7. Make sure their pet shipper is legitimate. If you do take the risk of having your pet shipped, ask for the name and contact information of the shipping company they intend to use. After you have the name, use a search engine to find that shipping company and give them a call from the number on their website to make sure they know the breeder.

While the vast majority of pet breeders are legitimate, it can sometimes be difficult to spot a fraud. If you suspect that you have become a victim, report it immediately. You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars. To learn more about puppy scams, click here.