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Complaints of internet scammers exploiting the desire of animal lovers to adopt or purchase a furry companion are all too common, including instances of consumers being tricked into paying for pets that do not exist. Because the scammers often live outside the United States, the prospects of victims getting their money back are extremely low.
In addition to the typical scam practices of advertising puppies that do not exist, demanding high fees once the purchase price has been paid is another practice used by scammers. Such fees can be for shipping, “special” crates, bogus insurance, health-related issues, and others.
Consumers should be hyper-vigilant when attempting to purchase a puppy online. Use the following tips to avoid being scammed:
- Remember this: Regardless of how a puppy is sold – by a breeder, pet store, or online – always be on alert for deceptive practices.
- Research the breed. Look up information about the breed you want. Take the time to understand ideal breeding conditions, common health issues, and the breed’s average selling price. If you find a puppy being sold at a significantly discounted and uncommon price for its breed, it is likely a scam.
- Research the breeder. Conduct a thorough internet search of the breeder you intend to buy from. You should also search the email address on the breeder’s website, or the one breeder uses to contact you. Scammers often use the same email address across multiple websites. If the breeder’s website contains testimonials, conduct an internet search of the testimonial content. If the same or similar text appears elsewhere, the breeder is likely a scammer.
- Research the puppy. If the breeder claims to have registered the puppy with an organization like the American Kennel Club, contact the organization to confirm. If the breeder’s website contains a photo of the puppy, do a Google image search. This will tell you if the photo has been used on other sites. If it has, the advertisement is likely a scam.
- Do not purchase a puppy sight unseen. If possible, visit the breeder and puppy in person. If you cannot do so, request that the breeder video chat with you or send you a photo or video with your name and the date written on a piece of paper next to the puppy. Be sure to do this before making any sort of deposit. In addition, request to see the premises and the puppy’s mother. Avoid breeders who offer to meet you at a “convenient” public location and will not allow you to see where the animals are kept.
- Arrange safe transport of the puppy. Keep in mind that shipping any young animal long distances, especially as air cargo in the hot summer months, carries a great deal of risk. It is recommended that you pick up the puppy in person and fly back with them in a carrier under the seat. Sellers may use transportation-related scam tactics to get more money. Some of those tactics include:
- “Crate didn’t meet airline standards, so you need to pay for a different one.”
- “Puppy needs medical attention, so you’ll have to pay for the services before transport.”
- “Too warm/cold; we need to buy special devices to keep the pet comfortable during transport.”
- “Date doesn’t work with the airline; need you to pay a reservation change fee.”
- Use a credit card to make the purchase. Avoid wiring money or sending gift cards. Also avoid sending money using apps such as Venmo, Zelle, or CashApp. These transactions cannot be refunded and are not traceable. Use a credit card, which will allow you to dispute a purchase.
- Retain all documents and communications from the breeder. In the event you must document fraud, be sure to keep all records of the sale, including:
- Information about the breeder, such as screenshots of the website;
- Original advertisement;
- All written communications with the breeder;
- Proof of any funds you sent to the breeder;
- Any contracts or financing agreements;
- Breeder’s refund policy;
- Any health guarantees, health certificates, or proof of veterinary exams and vaccinations;
- Registration information if the seller claims the animal is registered; and
- Any photos or videos you receive.
- Avoid pet stores. Almost all pet store puppies come from puppy mills. These stores pretend they are boutiques with purebreds or “designer” mixed breeds. Michigan is one of the top states for the number of complaints received about puppies purchased from pet stores. When buying a puppy from a pet store, look for:
- Stores that do not have appropriate paperwork identifying a puppy’s breeder. When asked, the store may only have information on the dealer. Dealers have license numbers with a B in the middle, instead of an A; for example, 43-B-1234.
- Stores that sell puppies that have been shipped from breeders hundreds of miles away, often under bad transport conditions, or stores that offer to sell an underage puppy (under eight weeks old).
- Deceptive signs or language used in the store to make buyers think puppies are from small, humane breeders. The signs may say things like, “no puppy mills,” “registered,” “designer,” or “hypoallergenic breeds.”
- Consider contacting your local shelter. Most shelters are looking for people to adopt or foster puppies. This prevents overcrowding and relieves stress on the animals. Many animals at shelters are immediately available for adoption. Shelters may also be able to offer references to reputable local rescues or breeders. Visit the Humane Society of the United States website for more information on finding a puppy, how to find a responsible breeder, how to recognize shady pet store practices, and to obtain additional fact sheets and resources.
To report a scam, file a complaint, or get additional information, contact the Michigan Department of Attorney General:
Consumer Protection Team
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form