Con artists post pictures online advertising desirable breeds and then never provide the puppy. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received about 40 puppy scam complaints in 2017, with an average reported loss of about $600.
“Con artists are very good at what they do,” DeWine said. “They lure people in and then demand more and more money. Someone might pay $400 for a puppy, but then the con artist comes back and says there’s also an $800 crate fee. The person is already invested in the puppy and is more likely to pay. That’s why education and prevention are so important.”
In a typical puppy scam, a consumer finds an ad for a puppy online and wires a few hundred dollars to have the puppy delivered but never receives the pup. The ads often are found on websites offering a specific type of dog, such as a Teacup Maltese, Shih Tzu, or Pocket Beagle, and the site’s name may include words like “adorable pups,” “cutest puppies,” or the name of the supposed breeder.
Phony ads also may be posted on Craigslist or social media sites.
Consumers who pay once generally are contacted again and asked to pay more for seemingly legitimate costs to cover shipping insurance, crate fees, or other charges. In some cases, if consumers refuse to pay, the con artist threatens to turn them in for animal abuse or neglect.
Signs of a puppy scam include:
• A seller who requests payment via wire transfer or money order.
• No in-person communication between the seller and the buyer.
• Too-good-to-be-true prices, such as $500 for a puppy that normally would cost $1,000.
• Pictures of the puppy appearing on other websites when the images are searched online.
• A seller with a poor reputation or no reputation.
• A seller who threatens to turn in the buyer for animal neglect or abandonment.
• In addition to advertising puppies, con artists also may pretend to offer kittens, parrots, or other pets. Generally they communicate with the consumer via email, phone, or text, send pictures of the animal, and ask the consumer to pay using wire transfer or money order.
Tips to avoid the scam:
• Research breeders and sellers carefully. Check complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau, and review feedback from other customers. Be skeptical if you find no information; some scam artists change names regularly to trick consumers. 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 animal 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 adoption 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 or money order, 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 the humane society. The Humane Society of the United States has a puppy mill tip line at 1-877-MILL-TIP (1-877-645-5847).
Consumers can report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.