“Some scam artists will try to sell you a puppy that doesn’t exist,” DeWine said. “They’ll show you a picture and say they’ll deliver the puppy to you, but after you pay, you won’t get anything in return. We just warn people to be very careful if they’re trying to buy a puppy online.”
A typical puppy scam begins when a consumer finds a website offering a certain kind of dog, such as a Corgi, Shih Tzu, or teacup puppy. The website may include words like “adorable,” “precious,” or “cute” along with the name of the breed or the seller. To buy a puppy, consumers are told to wire a few hundred dollars. After they pay once, they’re asked to send more money for shipping, insurance, or other costs. No puppy is ever delivered.
In the past year, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received over 50 complaints about reported puppy scams. Consumers generally said the scams began with a specific puppy website, but some also reported finding ads on Facebook or another social media site.
Signs of a puppy scam include:
• A seller who requests payment via wire transfer or money order.
• Too-good-to-be-true prices, such as $500 for a puppy that normally would cost $1,000.
• Pictures of the same puppy appearing on multiple websites.
• Not being able to visit the puppy before the purchase.
• A seller with a poor reputation or no reputation.
• A seller who threatens to turn you in for animal neglect or abandonment if you refuse to send more money to the seller.
Tips to avoid the scam include:
• Research breeders and sellers carefully. Check complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and review feedback from other customers. Don’t rely solely on information provided by the seller. Keep in mind that some con artists may list an Ohio address and phone number, when they’re actually located in another country. Verify the seller’s information with an independent source. 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. (Search “how to search by image” for help determining how to do this.) If the same picture shows up in multiple places, it could be part of a scam.
• Visit the puppy 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 adopting 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 the Ohio 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 has a puppy mill tip line at 1-877-MILL-TIP (1-877-645-5847).
Consumers can report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.