Puppy Scams are Real:  Don't be the Next Victim

by Janice Jones     |Last updated 06-08-2021

We’ve all heard about puppy scams, but do they really exist?  How do you know whether your perfect puppy is coming from a puppy scam or a legitimate breeder site on the internet?  Can you tell the difference between a reputable breeder and a puppy mill site?

Nowadays, most people start their search for a puppy on the internet.  Long gone are the days where someone might pick up their local paper, scan through the “for-sale” columns for a puppy, then contact a few breeders that might be close to their home. 

If you were a show breeder, you’d want to invest in an ad to appear in a national magazine.  You could then find puppies for yourself or sell the ones you might have on the ground.  Those days are gone.  People rely on digital means to find a puppy whether it is a purebred or an adult dog looking for a new home.

You happen to stumble upon a cute puppy, one that represents the breed of your dreams, but how do you go about determining whether the site and breeder are legitimate before forking over some of your hard-earned money.  

Buying a puppy or adopting an older dog should be a joyous occasion and one where the buyer should feel secure that they are getting everything they hoped for and more. Super cute puppy pictures can be stolen from anywhere on the internet and repurposed as a way to sell you a puppy. 

Four-week old puppies whelped at Miracle Shih TzuCookie, Bella, and Chloe are not victims of a puppy scams.

Puppy Scams have become ubiquitous and the unsuspecting puppy buyer can fall head over heels in love with a puppy at the drop of a hat.  Sending money to an unknown person is scary at best and risky in the worst scenario. 

How does the average person determine if an offer is coming from a real person with real puppies to sell?  It is not as hard as it might seem.

Before you become bamboozled by the cuteness, check out a few of these ideas.

Puppy Scams or Legitimate Offers

The easiest way to determine if you are working with a real person is to find a breeder near your own home.  If they give you their address and invite you to visit their home, you can’t go wrong. 

Person to person contact is reassuring, but visiting the breeders’ home, seeing the puppies and the puppies’ parents make the interaction real. 

Even if it takes an hour or two travel time to visit the breeder’s home, it is the best and safest way to assure you are buying a puppy that you have seen and approved.

There are breeders all over the world who produce puppies that need a home.  Hobby/Show breeders, professional breeders, one-time breeders who are either just getting their feet wet or have a one-time litter to sell. 

There are also commercial breeders who produce more than the occasional litter, who may or may not be a puppy mill.  You may even run into brokers who act as a go-between buyer wanting a puppy and sellers needing to sell a puppy.  Some broker sites are fine, but many represent breeders who could also be classified as puppy mills. 

Brick and Mortar Pet Stores that sell puppies can often be found on the internet.  These establishments purchase puppies from commercial breeders or puppy mills who prefer to be anonymous. 

If you found the puppy of your choice that is not close by, insist on speaking to the breeder over the phone.

Where Do Puppy Scammers Hide Out?

Sadly, puppy scammers get more sophisticated each year.  The internet is the obvious choice for someone interested in this shady business.  Facebook has seen it's fair share of puppy scams as well. 

Sites such as ebay or Craig's list are easy venues for scammers, so finding a puppy from one of these sites is not recommended.

There are also sites on the web that are put up and taken down periodically that have no puppies to sell at all, but look just as legit as the real breeder sites. These are the scam sites to avoid at all costs.   Luckily there are ways to tell the real from the fake in time to prevent you from sending money to a scammer.

Ways to Detect Puppy Scams

1. The Offer Sounds Too Good to Be True

If it sounds too great, it probably is.  Excellent breeders will not sell their puppies for rock bottom prices.  It is not cheap to raise a litter.  Vet bills, health testing, food and supplements, time and effort go into a litter. 

So, if the price seems too good, it probably is not legit.  If you have been checking the price of puppies that you are interested in buying and a puppy comes up that is way below the going price, there is a reason for it.  Read on for more information about prices.

2. Free or nearly free shipping:

Many scammers will offer shipping at a ridiculously low price enticing you to purchase knowing that shipping is not going to be an added expense to purchase the puppy.  If you fall for the scam, the cost of shipping continues to grow almost daily. 

There should be a set shipping price, whether you are paying to ship a puppy on an established airline via cargo or paying a flight nanny to transport our puppy, the price should be established before you enter into an agreement.  You should not need to pay the breeder additional costs because there was a problem. 

If shipping cargo, there is a set fee established by the airlines.  To that fee you must add the cost of the dog kennel or carrier, a health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian and often a fee for mileage to the closest airport.  The cost is often dependent on the size and weight of the puppy.  Brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and Shih Tzu require larger sized kennels which may a higher price.

Flight nannies are airline employees who fly for free based on standby status.  They normally have a set fee such as $400 to $500 dollars and the cost may go up if a carrier/kennel is required.  Puppies that are accompanied by a flight nanny fly in the cabin and are supervised and cared for the entire time of the trip.

 3. No  Phone Number?  

Call and talk to the breeder.  Do remember that breeders may not be able to take your call when it is convenient for you.  They have dogs and puppies to care for, puppies to care for, dogs to bathe, medicate or groom so just because they do not take your call immediately does not mean they are a scam.  Keep calling or wait for a return call.  A voice on the other end can always assure you that a breeder is a real person selling real puppies.

4. Written Communication and Poor Grammar

A scammer will never provide a phone number.  (or they provide a fake phone number).  Scammers will only be available via email.  Read the email carefully.  The wording in the email should be proper English.  If you are in the US, scan the wording and determine if it is a native speaking US citizen.  The same applies to the UK, New Zealand, Australia or other English-speaking countries. Puppy scams often originate abroad.

If the response you receive seems odd, or does not conform to the local vernacular or how you would expect a native to speak or respond to your questions, chances are you are not corresponding with a local person.    While not a definite sign, that should at least send up a red flag.  Odd use of grammar is a telltale sign that you are not dealing with a native speaker.

5. No Visiting Permitted

Wait!  They won't let you visit?

There are valid reasons why a breeder might not want to allow you full access to their kennel, but if you get the feeling that the person refuses to allow visits, there is a problem.  Some breeders will allow a visit to their home but not tours of their kennel facilities.

Do not immediately rule these breeders that refuse admittance to their kennels, as they may have a good reason for not allowing access to their kennels.  Infectious disease is one such reason.  Some breeders have been hurt by people visiting their kennels and introducing parasites or viruses. 

For example, if you visit one site that may have a parvo outbreak and then travel to another breeder, you can unwittingly pass on the parvovirus to the dogs in the second kennel creating a biohazard to the breeder.  One such instance is likely to prompt the breeder to close off the kennel to outside pathogens.

6. Website: The Telltale Clue of Puppy Scams

This is a past puppy of Miracle Shih TzuThis is one of our past puppies and not a puppy scam.

Many scammers provide extensive lists of testimonials.  Now, there is nothing wrong with a testimonial, but when you cannot confirm the legitimacy of the person providing the testimonial, you should question their authenticity. 

One such spam site that I encountered had a picture of a well-known celebrity holding a dog.  Testimonials can be made up and pictures can be stolen from other websites.

There are normally beautiful photos of small puppies all appearing to be between 6 weeks and 12 weeks.

The site normally will have little actual information about the puppy other than a fake birthdate and a price.  If there is information about the breed you can use Copyscape to see if the content has been stolen.

7.  No Physical Address

Do you have a real physical address of the person you are sending money to?  Google it to see if it exists.  Do not accept a PO box for an address. 

Many breeders have been hurt by people who send bad checks, but if the payment requirement seems odd, such as a Walmart money order or a postal money order, or Western Union, you may want to do a bit more research. 

You may find many legitimate sites that accept these types of payments, but contact them before you send any money.

8. Photos Virtually Nonexistent but Surprisingly, a video exists.

Puppy Scams or Legitimate Offers?This photo is of our Poppy when she was 10 weeks old. No puppy scams here.

A site that can only provide pictures of an 8 or 9-week-old puppy may be a scam.  Can they provide the pictures of the puppy’s parents or grandparents?  At the very least, they should be able to provide a picture of the puppy’s mother. 

If they have no pictures of the puppy prior to 8 weeks old, that should send up a red flag.  Most good breeders will start photographing their puppies from birth onward.  

Can they keep you up to date with pictures of the puppy as they grow?  Many scam sites will only have one or two pictures of a puppy that is 8 or 9 weeks old.  Ask to see newborn pictures.

Where did the video come from?  It is relatively easy to steal a video or ask a legitimate breeder to send you photos and videos.  Once the scammer has both in his possession, it is simple to add them online.

9. About Me page or Lack Thereof

Every website should have an about me page that provides background information about the breeder and his family and/or breeding facility. How candid is the about me page?  Run, don’t walk away from a site that does not provide any information. Many will provide information but it will be vague.

We love dogs and breed to the highest quality, providing puppies that are healthy, happy and conform to the breed standard.  We love our dogs and only adopt them to the best homes.

That description may be a start, but it doesn’t say anything about the breeder, the person who is behind the website.  The “About Me” or “About Us,” page should provide pictures and a description of the person or family that is producing puppies. 

Look for previous experience, educational level and current continuing education.  Granted, all of these can be faked, but the discerning buyer may be able to see through the “fluff.”

If you can’t feel any connection between you and the breeder, based on what the website reveals, find another breeder. 

You can also find out much about a website if you do a little background checking. This is recommended if you are unsure about the legitimacy of a website. I talk about that in a moment.

10. The Urgency to Ship Right Away

The urgency to ship your puppy right away often within 24 hours is a big red flag.  What's the hurry.  They want your money.  Ask them if they can ship in two weeks and see what they say? Beyond that, there is no way that someone can secure a flight that quickly. It just doesn't happen.

Doing Research on the Web will Uncover Puppy Scams

Tin Eye, a Reverse Image Search Engine

Tin Eye is a reverse image search and can tell you where any photos on the web originate.  If the puppy pictures were stolen from another website, this site would find the original source. 

If the pictures on the scammy site are original, look closely at them to determine if they may have been taken somewhere other then where the scammer says they are located.  I’ve picked out Coke Cola cans in foreign languages in pictures that should have been taken in the U.S.  

Check out the Owner of the Website at Whois

Whois is a database that will allow you to look at the person who owns the site.  It should provide identifiable information about the website owner, their host server, where the host is located and the and IP Address. If anything looks odd, it probably is and so you should run, not walk away from any deals with these people. 

Look for the date the website was established.  If it is recent, it could mean you are dealing with puppy scams.  Scammers' websites do not stay up for very long.

Websites That Collect Information About Scams

If you still suspect that the puppy of your dreams is part of a scam, Check out the scammer alert sites below. Petscams.org houses an extensive list of fraudulent websites and puppy shipping companies.

Does the Site Include Links to Social Media?

Are they on any social media sites?  Look for evidence of legitimacy on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or another Social Media site. 

Not all good breeders are on social media, but many are on at least one form of social media, often Facebook.  Ask to chat with them on their Facebook page.  Do they have Skype?  Some breeders use this form of communication.  It is worthwhile to see what their Skype number is and contact them there.

You've Been Scammed, Now What

There is no guarantee that you will recover your losses, but there are a few things you still should do.

1. File a complaint with your local police department.

2.  Visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center and file a report. 

3.  While in Whois, find out who the service provider is and send an email alerting them that the website is a puppy scam site.

4.  Report it to Scamwarners  

5.  File a report with Petscams 

6.  File a complaint at Fraud.org 

It truly feels horrible when you discover you have been a victim of puppy scams.  The emotional loss of know the puppy you already started to love will never be yours.  Losing money, not matter what your financial situation is difficult to take.

Please take some time to recover your loss before you begin to look again.  File reports with as many agencies that you can find.  This helps put these puppy scammers out of business. 

Lastly, and this is truly the hardest, don't fall emotionally in love with a beautiful puppy pictures until you've done your due diligence.

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About Janice

Janice is the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu. Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, she served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu.

When not writing, reading, or researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, her husband, and her family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Small Dog Place and Smart-Knit-Crocheting.