Pet Scams and Bad Breeders Will Break Your Heart — and Empty Your Wallet. Don't Be a Victim.

"But what's going to happen to that little dog? He's still out there!"
Even after spending over $6,000 in ever-escalating fees for a puppy she'd never received, the victim's first thought was for the dog. Because she'd fallen in love, and that made her vulnerable.
Of course, there never was any dog.
"A key challenge in consumer fraud is that people don't think that it can happen to them—but the reality is that anyone can fall victim," said John Skoglund, Senior Manager of Fraud Operations and Training at Western Union.
And that's particularly true as scammers become ever more sophisticated. Pet scammers will usurp real breeders' credentials and real pet shipping companies' names; they'll throw up websites that would fool anyone; they'll play your heartstrings like they're at Symphony Hall.
So here's how to spot a scam. And some tips for finding a real dog, too.

Do a reverse image search.

You fell in love with a picture on Instagram, Facebook, or a site offering purebred dogs at Heinz57 prices. But when put one picture through, the reverse image search site revealed that the adorable puppy's photo had been used hundreds of times by hundreds of "breeders." Ahem. You know what to do.

Check the breeder's address.

Use an address checker to see if it's a deliverable address. Run the address without a suite number to see if it's an accommodation address—those are always popular with scammers, unlike USPS PO Boxes, where ID is required for rental. Then run the address without the kennel's name to find out whether it's occupied by a different company. They didn't give you an address at all? HUGE red flag.

Check the breeder's credentials and details

Anyone doing a cursory search of a particular breeder's name, like one complainant did, might find evidence of a genuine breeder with a prizewinning line of dogs. So why was the phone number included with the Instagram photo different from the one on the breeder's site? Always call the number listed through a reputable resource such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) or United Kennel Club (UKC)—not the one given to you.
Also, "do your due diligence. Ask for references and call them. Ask if the breeder is a member of an AKC-related club, and contact that club to verify membership," advises AKC Vice President Gina DiNardo.

Is the seller more interested in the care you'll give their dog—or your money?

Obviously a breeder wants to be paid. But "any reputable breeder is going to care about the home you're giving their dog first, the money second," says DiNardo.

If you're buying long-distance, the AKC advises you to negotiate a sound contract and arrange to pay perhaps half up-front, half only after your vet's given the dog a clean bill of health.

Who's the pet shipping service—really?

Most pet scams involve a fake shipper. First you pay the "breeder," then you'll encounter multiple fees from the "pet shipping service," which may have a name similar to a real service. At that point, you're invested financially and emotionally, and the scammer will really start extracting fees—shipping fees, taxes, documentation fees, puppy food, money for a special kennel "required by the airline."

Worse, they'll convince you that your dog is stranded somewhere because you can't dig up a little more money.

"They got him as far as Indianapolis. We just want our puppy that we already paid for," wrote one victim who'd already paid out nearly $8,000 for a German Shepherd puppy. She believed that the shipper was holding the dog hostage and that the suddenly unreachable breeder was simply unaware.

NEVER buy a puppy long-distance without asking who'll be shipping it. Check out the shipping service as thoroughly as the breeder. If there are red flags, find a reputable shipping service; then insist that you'll use only that one, and arrangements must be made before payment. If the breeder balks, you know it's likely a scam.

What's the method of payment?

Money sent via wire, Western Union, MoneyGram, iTunes gift card, Green Dot card, etc., is cash. Would you walk up to a random person on a crowded city street and give them $1,000 in cash—and expect to find it and get it back a week, or even an hour, later?

"Western Union should be used only to send money to people you have met in person and trust," said Skoglund. "Consumers should also never provide their banking information to people they haven't met in person."

If you sent funds by Western Union or MoneyGram but the money hasn't been paid out yet, you may be able to stop the transaction—but you'll have to act faster than the scammer, and that's hard. A credit card gives you much more protection, which is exactly why scammers don't take ‘em.

Even if the dog is real, John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States offers a further caution.

"We've heard from people who thought they were financing the purchase of a dog, and were shocked to find out that they were only leasing it," he says. "Be very careful to read the fine print before you sign a contract. Also, make sure you understand the total price you'll have paid by the time you're done."

Can you visit the kennels?

Avoid any breeder who won't let you see the kennels—and that applies to both scammers and people selling real dogs.

If you're buying long distance and the seller balks when you say you'll be on the next plane, that's a scam or a puppy mill. If you're buying relatively locally and the breeder wants to meet you somewhere with the dog instead of having you come visit, that's a puppy mill.

"You need to be able to see all the areas where the mother dogs and puppies are," says John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States, which provides many pointers on finding reputable breeders. "Everything should be clean and well-maintained, and the breeder should want you and your family to spend some time with the dog."

So where should you get your dog?

"Adding a dog to your family is a big commitment, and doing your research is extremely important," says DiNardo. "Not only should you research what breed is best for your lifestyle, you should arm yourself with information about breeders you're interested in so you don't fall victim to unfortunate scams that are out there. Research the breeder you're working with—getting references or referrals is the safest way to start your puppy buying journey. A good place to start is with AKC's Marketplace, which has information about its Breeders of Merit and Bred with Heart breeders."

Don't forget to visit your local Humane Society or animal shelter. You'll find a wide array of sturdy, loving dogs waiting for forever homes. Many shelters will let you play with the dogs and walk them, so that you can make sure they're the just right fit for your family.

If you're dead set on getting a pure-bred, some local Humane Societies and shelters will alert you if they get a dog of the type you're looking for; or you might find one via a rescue-adoption partner like PetSmart. Breed-specific rescue organizations may welcome your application, too.

Whatever you do, don't buy a dog from a pet store. The conditions commonly found in the overcrowded, disease-spreading "puppy mills" that supply pet stores are so horrific, inhumane and unhealthy that many cities and counties have banned the sale of dogs in pet stores.

"You may feel sorry for the puppy and think you're rescuing it from that tiny cage," says Goodwin, "but really you're just perpetuating the problem."

For tips on avoiding puppy mill purchases and finding good breeders, we encourage you to visit

And don't get scammed, or let your friends get scammed. Really. wants to help you get your overcharging plumber to give you a reasonable refund, not help you try to fix your broken heart.

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