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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2021 > Puppy Scammers Target Unsuspecting Consumers

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Puppy Scammers Target Unsuspecting Consumers

With all of the isolation and separation that have occurred since the pandemic began, many animal lovers are in the market for a furry companion. While legitimate shelters and other local sources exist to acquire a pet, consumers should be aware of the prevalence of puppy scams.

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 touts how “adorable,” “precious” and “cute” the breed is or names the seller. And, of course, there are many cute pictures of the puppy. But before consumers can make the puppy a new family member, they 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. But in the end, no puppy is ever delivered. 

Consumers have reported that the scams often began with a specific puppy website, but some also reported finding ads on Facebook or other social media sites.

Signs of a puppy scam include:
  • A seller who requests payment via wire transfer, money order, peer-to-peer service (i.e. Venmo or Zelle) or Google Pay.
  • 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.
Tips to avoid scams:
  • 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 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, money order, peer-to-peer service (i.e. Venmo or Zelle) or Google Pay; 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.
  • Report potential problems. 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 humane society. The Humane Society of the United States has a puppy mill tip line at 1-877-MILL-TIP (1-877-645-5847).
Ohioans should also be vigilant when researching animal-related charities before donating. Watch out for phony charities with realistic-sounding names: Just because a charity sounds legitimate, doesn’t mean that it is. Many scam charities choose names because they sound official or trustworthy.

Be skeptical of solicitors who tell you to make a check out to an individual rather than an organization, or who can’t or won’t provide detailed written information about the charity they claim to support.
Consumers can report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at or 800-282-0515.