Thinking of buying a puppy or kitten or other pet? Cruising on the internet and see an adorable picture of a puppy or kitten for sale? Don’t fall for the hardship stories and the cute pictures. Puppy scammers as well as those scamming people for all types of pets have made millions off of good people who want to add a pet to their family, and thought it would be easy to transport it, sometimes hundreds of miles across many countries.
Puppy scams netted in excess of $3.3 million in 2020 and $3 million in 2021 to be exact, according to the BBB Scam Tracker. The figure for 2022 is on track for $2 million. As potential pet owners become more aware of the devious tactics of online pet scammers, the figure falls, but that only encourages scammers to be better at what they do.
A 2019 survey by the American Pet Products Association estimates that as many of 36% of all pets purchased are done so via the Internet. Considering this venue is rift with posers and autonomous individuals who can pretend to be anyone they want, this is a very risky marketplace to purchase a pet. But there are things that you can do to avoid being the victim of a puppy scam (or any other animal).
Here are some tips to look out for when dealing with people on the internet who say they will deliver you a pet:
- Hardship stories about how they can no longer care for the puppy, kitten or other pet.
- Poor use of English.
- Inability to contact the seller by phone.
- Changes of email address.
- Requests for personal information.
- Seller offers the pet for free; you simply have to pay a nominal charge for shipping.
- Seller requests money for an air conditioned crate or “pressurized vaccination”.
- Tells you that you will need pet insurance to transport your pet (not required nor is it necessary nor available in most countries).
- Saying that you cannot pick up the animal; it must be delivered, and they can arrange to deliver it to your door. (This would require the use of an agent which would add to the cost.)
- Seller is not familiar with pet import regulations for your country, if shipping internationally.
- Seller sends you a detailed and colorful form with all sorts of details and company logos on it.
- The deal is too good to be true.
Here are some things that you can do to ensure you are working with a legitimate person:
- Ask for licensing information if the seller claims to be a breeder. It is common practice for commercial breeders to be licensed. Find more information on pet licensing in the United States here.
- Ask for the seller’s website, Facebook, Twitter or other social media page if they claim to be a breeder.
- Do some internet research and see if others have posted experiences with the person you are dealing with.
- Do a search for an average value for the breed you are consider buying. If the seller’s price deviates from this price, this can be a red flag.
- Ask to see a picture of the puppy or kitten with its Mother and the rest of the litter. Demand to see the veterinary certificate and contact the veterinarian to confirm they have cared for the puppy or kitten.
- Do a reverse image search* on Google on the image that the seller sends to you.
- Tell the seller that you would like to pick up the puppy or kitten (even if you cannot do this, if the response to your request is not positive, beware)
- Try to set up a video call with the seller so you can see both them and the puppy or kitten.
- Ask to meet whomever is delivering the puppy or kitten in a public place so that you can examine the puppy or kitten before paying for it. Do not give out your home address.
- If the seller mentions a shipping company, verify with that shipping company that they have a reservation to transport your puppy or kitten.
- Know that puppies and kittens must be vaccinated to enter any country in the world and they cannot be vaccinated for rabies prior to 3 months of age and must wait for 21-30 days minimum to enter the country.
- Ask if the seller accepts credit cards. Remember that, if you wire money or send a cash card number, you have to recourse to recover it. Never pay in advance if at all possible.
- Know the requirements for pets to enter your country. Ask the seller for details about all the forms they will need to fill out so that your puppy can enter your country. The US does not even allow puppies intended for re-homing to enter the country before 6 months of age.
*Reverse Image Search on a desktop:
- In a Google Chrome browser – right click on the image and select Search for Image on Google
- On any browser – go to images.google.com and click the camera icon (Search by Image) then upload or drag and drop the image you have received from the seller into Google Lens
Reverse Image Search on a mobile device:
- Open a web browser and click the Google Icon or type in google.com. The camera icon will appear to the right of the search bar which will allow you to access Google lens and search for the image.
- If the camera icon does not appear, see if there is a link above the search bar that says “images”. If this is not available, then look for three dots “…” and click and select Request Desktop Site. This will take you to the Google search bar with the camera icon.
Find your country’s pet import regulations and know that it is very risky to fly puppies and kittens in the cargo hold of an airplane. They need to develop their respiratory systems to fly safely. The older they are, the better the chances they will arrive safely.
Try rescue foundations in your country before buying a pet from another country. The love you will receive will be just as rewarding if not more so than the risk you will be taking by sending money for a pet that may never come.
If you are a victim of a scam, then contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help (US residents) or report to petscams.com.
Related: Don’t be a victim of a pet scam
Don’t be a victim of pet scams. Know the steps to take before sending any money to determine whether you are dealing with someone who is trustworthy.