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Lakeland Terrier puppies sitting outdoors.
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Puppy buying is at an all-time high — so it’s no surprise that you may be on the search for a new dog right now. But the truth is, as puppy buying rises, so do puppy scams.

In today’s digital world, almost everyone uses the internet for shopping, including finding a new puppy! Don’t worry — it’s easy to spot puppy scams online if you’re aware of the red flags to look for. And it’s even easier to find a good breeder when you know what questions to ask. Here’s everything you need to know before starting your online puppy search.

What is a Puppy Scam?

Puppy scammers post fake litters online or pretend to be someone they’re not (usually an existing breeder) to take advantage of puppy sales (sans the puppies.) This means that if you aren’t careful, you could find the perfect puppy, send the ‘breeder’ your money, and never receive a puppy or any follow-up communication in return.

While many times these fake listings appear on websites like Craigslist, some scammers find ways to position themselves as reputable breeders by stealing personal info from them.

Luckily, it’s easy to know what to look for to ensure your puppy buying experience is both safe and enjoyable.

What are the Red Flags?

  • No phone calls. The seller prefers to handle communication by email and not the phone. A reputable breeder will always communicate with you via phone or video chat (if not in person) before selling you a puppy. Fraudulent sellers are oftentimes outside of the U.S. and may be hiding their phone number by only communicating by email.
  • Copycat or stock photos. Photos of the dog or ad text can be found on multiple websites. Search for the text in the listing to see if the seller copied and pasted it from another site.
  • Sketchy payment. The seller asks for wiring of money or payment by gift cards. Be aware that if you choose a non-secure method of payment, it is highly unlikely that you will get your money back. Avoid paying a stranger using apps such as Venmo, as it is harder to get your money back if you don’t get what you paid for. Paying by credit card or PayPal are typically the safest options.
  • Price is too good to be true. Research the prices for the breed you are considering ahead of time. Purebred dogs sold at deeply discounted prices are typically frauds. If the seller says they register their dogs with a specific organization, you can call the organization to confirm.

Miniature American Shepherd puppy laying in the grass.

How Many People Have Been Affected by Puppy Scams?

According to BBB data, nearly 10,000 scam reports and complaints have come in during the last three years about “businesses” selling puppies and dogs. The FTC estimates that only about 10 percent of victims report these crimes, so this number could be much higher.

Sixty percent of these reports indicated the consumers never received the pets they purchased, and others received pets that had health or genetic problems and did not receive documentation for their pet.

“Scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in high emotion situations,” said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. “The excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgement, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money, and hopes for a new pet.”

How Can I Safely Find a Breeder or Puppy Seller Online?

While scammers are likely to start talking money immediately, legitimate sources will always take time and diligence to make sure the dog you are choosing is a good fit for your family.

  • Analyze reviews and referrals. The best sources for purebred puppies will have ample positive reviews or referrals from satisfied puppy owners proving they are legitimate and reputable.
  • Meet your breeder or puppy seller. Always ask to talk on the phone or video chat. Meeting in person is great whenever possible.
  • Ask questions. Responsible breeders and puppy sellers love to chat and educate about dogs. Ask anything and everything that you might want to know about the breed, the breeder, and the available puppies.  Ask about the breed and how your pup’s parents compare to the official breed standard and other breed traits. How big are the parents? What do they look like? What kind of temperament do they have? Have the parents achieved any AKC titles or awards?
  • Ask for proof. Don’t be shy — responsible breeders will be happy to share information about your puppy’s parents, and proof of health records and screenings. You should be sure that the puppy has been seen by a licensed veterinarian and know where the puppy is on their shot-schedule. This will also help you so that you have the proper medical information when you bring your puppy home and you will know what shots are needed next.
  • Get documentation. Ensure that before leaving with your puppy, you will receive documentation of your dog’s papers. The words “American Kennel Club” as well as the AKC logo should be clearly visible. If the breeder or puppy seller hesitates to give you papers, this is usually a warning sign.
  • Be patient. If they seem anxious to complete the sale or get your deposit as soon as possible, or if you feel like they are pushing you to make a quick decision regarding a puppy, be careful. Such behavior is often a warning sign that the person you are dealing with is actually a scammer, and there is no puppy.

The AKC Marketplace is one of the best places to start your search for a puppy, as long as you are vigilant about the above warning signs. AKC Marketplace conducts thousands of kennel inspections a year and is the only online resource to exclusively list 100% puppies from AKC-registerable litters. If you find anything suspicious while searching for a dog on AKC Marketplace, report the details to akcmarketplace@akc.org.

Now that you are armed with the proper knowledge to start your online puppy search safely, have fun and get ready to bring home your new pet!

Related article: How to Prepare for a Breeder Interview
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