We know: Those big eyes, huge paws, and soft fur in online puppy ads for popular breeds can be seriously beguiling when you’re looking for a new fuzzy friend. But don’t let the cuteness overload tempt you into falling for a scam that will ultimately leave your arms empty and your wallet hundreds of dollars lighter.
Amid a slew of recent reports of people who paid for puppies advertised online but who then never received their furry friends, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is warning consumers against falling for such scams.
The AG’s office has received about 40 puppy scam complaints already this year, with an average reported loss of about $600.
Here’s how it usually goes down: A consumer finds an ad for a puppy online — sometimes on Facebook or Craigslist — that is supposedly from a breeder offering up a specific type of dog, like a Teacup Maltese, Shih Tzu, or Pocket Beagle.
Often, these ads will lead to sites that use words like “adorable pups,” “cutest puppies,” or the name of the phony breeder. Once a consumer wires any money, they’re often contacted again and asked to pay more to cover costs that seem legitimate like shipping insurance, crate fees, or other charges.
In some cases, if consumers refuse to fork over the cash, the scammer threatens to turn them in for animal abuse or neglect.
Consumers may ultimately wire hundreds of dollars to these scammers for the safe delivery of the dog, only to end up puppyless.
“Con artists are very good at what they do,” Attorney General DeWine said. “They lure people in and then demand more and more money. Someone might pay $400 for a puppy, but then the con artist comes back and says there’s also an $800 crate fee. The person is already invested in the puppy and is more likely to pay. That’s why education and prevention are so important.”
Here are some tell-tale signs of a puppy scam:
• A seller who requests payment via wire transfer or money order.
• No in-person communication between the seller and the buyer.
• Too-good-to-be-true prices, such as $500 for a puppy that normally would cost $1,000.
• Pictures of the puppy appearing on other websites when the images are searched online.
• A seller with a poor reputation or no reputation.
• A seller who threatens to turn in the buyer for animal neglect or abandonment.
• In addition to advertising puppies, con artists also may pretend to offer kittens, parrots, or other pets. Generally they communicate with the consumer via email, phone, or text, send pictures of the animal, and ask the consumer to pay using wire transfer or money order.
The AG’s office offers up these tips to help getting puppy pranked:
Research breeders and sellers carefully. Check complaints filed with your state attorney general’s office and the Better Business Bureau, and review feedback from other customers. Be skeptical if you find no information; some scam artists change names regularly to trick consumers. If possible, work with a local, reputable organization.
Never purchase a pet sight-unseen over the internet, especially from an individual who requests an “adoption fee” or “shipping fee” via money order or wire transfer. To help detect a possible scam, conduct an online image search of the puppy’s photo to see where else the picture is posted on the internet. If the same picture shows up in multiple places, it could be part of a scam.
Visit the animal in person. If you choose to purchase a puppy, visit the breeder in person. Ask many questions. Ensure the breeder has individual veterinary paperwork for the puppy on the letterhead of his or her veterinarian, and consider calling the veterinarian to verify the relationship. Obtain proof of purchase with the breeder’s full contact information on it.
Consider adoption from a local animal shelter, where the entire family can meet and interact with an animal prior to adoption.
Watch for red flags. Beware of offers that are too good to be true, sellers who require payment via wire transfer or money order, requests for extra costs for airline pet insurance or a temperature-controlled crate, unexpected delivery problems requiring additional payment, or threats that you’ll be turned in for animal abuse or neglect if you don’t pay.
If you suspect a scam, contact your Attorney General’s office. If you suspect animal cruelty, contact the seller’s local animal control agency or the humane society. The Humane Society of the United States also has a puppy mill tip line at 1-877-MILL-TIP (1-877-645-5847).