Online puppy scams: How to identify and avoid them

In Emotional Support Animal by Emotional Pet Support TeamLeave a Comment

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown rules imposed across the globe, buying or adopting a puppy soared in popularity over the last year. Unfortunately, so did puppy scams. In 2020, pet scams reportedly made up for nearly a quarter of all scams online. This is why if you have decided to welcome a puppy to your family, you should learn to spot and avoid fraudsters online. To help you do that, we’ve prepared a list of  9 ways to identify a puppy scam before it’s too late. 

If you’ve already looked at all the important considerations about becoming a dog owner and you are about to buy a puppy, read along to find out how to do that without becoming a victim of online fraud!   

  1. Price is too low/ Huge Discounts

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers will often try to lure their victims in with incredibly low prices. If you come across an adorable, purebred puppy in perfect health that is offered for let’s say £200 when the average market price is £2000, you should ask yourself why that is. There is no good reason for a professional breeder to drop their prices so low. 

To avoid being scammed using low pricing, you should do your research about the market and see what the average price for your desired breed is. Once you have checked a few reputable sites, you will have a good idea of what to expect. Also, beware of any ads mentioning “huge discounts” or “free” puppies – always ask yourself realistically, why would a breeder offer this. 

  1. Price is too high  

You could come across the opposite problem too. Purebred dogs coming from a long, well-documented bloodline, or a dog that has championship heritage can have a hefty price tag. Some puppy scams bank on that and augment the prices. 

At first, it seems more plausible that you’d have to pay so much for a dog with an excellent heritage, so you may not question it but you definitely should. Always ask for the relevant documentation and never feel awkward about it. A reputable breeder will be happy and willing to give you proof to back up their claims. They’d even be proud to do so. 

  1. Unexpected Costs 

Some scammers get creative with the way they take money off you. They first build trust with the buyer and once they have your attention, they come up with sudden issues – maybe there is a problem with the delivery and they need money sent to them, maybe they need money in advance for some documentation the dog needs, or maybe the come up with a security policy where you pay in advance and they return a portion of the money upon delivery. The bottom line is: none of this should be happening. 

A puppy buying transaction should be a straightforward process, so when unexpected costs and convoluted stories start creeping in, it might be time for you to back out. If you feel like something just doesn’t add up, trust your instincts. 

  1. Dubious Payment Methods

Many legitimate breeders will ask for card payment online simply because it’s an easy way to complete a transaction, especially when it comes to large sums of money. However, if you are asked to make wire transfers, you should think about it twice. Those are largely untraceable, so you would have little to no protection in case of fraud. If you encounter such a situation, ask for a different form of payment to be used and request to meet in person. If the seller is being elusive and keeps coming up with excuses, avoid the deal. 

Also, if the seller is asking you to start sending money very quickly, that’s a red flag too. A responsible breeder will want to make sure that their puppies are going to a good home, so they won’t be rushing to close the deal and get paid. They’d want to talk to you first to verify you are a suitable buyer. 

  1. No Phone or Face-to-Face Communication

Following the point above, a legitimate breeder will be more than happy to invite you to see the puppies in person. In fact, they’ll even insist on it for their own peace of mind. If any seller ever refuses that or makes up excuses to cancel the meetings last minute, it’s probably a scam. 

You’ll also notice that fake ads don’t offer a phone number for the seller. Fraudsters will normally stick to digital communication only because it’s anonymous and they can’t be identified. So, if the puppy owner doesn’t want to meet you or even speak to you on the phone, you should not buy from them. 

  1. Free Stock Photos/No Photos

Real, honest puppy breeders will have no problem taking photos of the newborn pups and showing them on their online ad. If there is no image added, ask for some and if you don’t get any, or the ones you receive appear elsewhere on the internet, unrelated to this ad/seller, this is an indication that you are being scammed. 

Sometimes fraudsters will steal photos from legitimate sellers or they will use free stock imagery. This is why you need to learn to spot those. Stolen images you can find by scrolling through live ads on other websites. If the picture looks like it’s been taken in a studio by a professional photographer or if it’s heavily edited, it probably is a stock photo. You can also use Google’s search by image functionality (Images -> Drop image in the search bar) or try to find the image on Google (right-click on image -> Find Image on Google). 

  1. No warranty against health issues

Reputable breeders stand beside their puppies. They know they have followed the industry best practices and that the little ones are taken care of. They would have also done all the necessary tests to ensure that the parents of the puppies have no health issues that can be passed genetically before the breeding process begins. 

This is why professional breeders offer a health guarantee which allows you to take your new puppy to your vet for a health check within a set time after the purchase (usually, 48-72 hours). If they fail it for any reason (except infectious diseases), you can return the puppy and get your money back. Suspicious breeders will not want to commit to this type of guarantee. If they are not sure that puppy is healthy, how can you be? 

  1. Is the website trustworthy? 

Although some people will offer puppies on eBay, Facebook, Gumtree and similar websites, you should always approach such ads with caution. Dog breeding specialists tend to use special platforms that are designed specifically for buying and selling puppies. Such websites will have strict vetting procedures to ensure that you are not dealing with scammers or puppy mill owners who treat dogs inhumanely. 

For example, has a 15-factor responsible breeding scale administered in place that looks at factors, such as whether the seller has a breeding license and whether the puppy has the necessary health tests. The vetting process uses actual humans and it’s the first to list DNA health testing information visible to the buyer. 

  1. Heartbreaking stories at key times

It’s Christmas time and puppy adoption ads with tear-jerking content suddenly start popping up everywhere. Sounds familiar? It’s because scammers are very good at pulling people’s heartstrings. Specific holidays during the year can make you feel more emotional and push you to try and do something that could be considered charitable, such as, let’s say saving a dog whose owner has passed away. 

Even though sad stories do happen and there is nothing wrong with helping an animal in need, never take the things you see online at face value. A professional breeder will never use a story like this because they don’t need to. A puppy adoption organisation may do that but they would have their own reputable website, so you will know it’s not a scam. If you are not sure, don’t be afraid to ask questions and check for all the red flags we talked about before deciding to trust this type of ad. 

Use all 9 of these points to make sure that you are not dealing with a puppy scam and once you’ve found your perfect pup, check out our guide for new dog owners and get ready to welcome your new furry friend home!

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