Identified Scam:

Beware of Craigslist Puppy Scams Looking to Steal Your Money

Online puppy scams increased by 500% in 2020, with Craigslist being a common site for scammers to use.
Updated 3 December 2021
Beware of Craigslist Puppy Scams Looking to Steal Your Money
Identified Scam:
Key Finding

Scammers on Craigslist post fake ads for puppies for sale and ask you to send payments for deposit, vaccinations, delivery, and more before you even see the puppy.

Key Risk

You will lose whatever money you send to the scammer—they will disappear the minute they receive it and won't deliver a puppy.

Sections on this page
  1. What Are Craigslist Puppy Scams?
  2. Red Flags of Craigslist Puppy Scams
  3. How to Beat Craigslist Puppy Scams
  4. Have You Fallen For This Craigslist Puppy Scam?
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

When shopping for a dog online, it's important to use best practices to avoid falling for Craigslist puppy scams. The main rule to follow is to only send money when you have the puppy or at least have seen the puppy in person. Most scammers don't even have a real puppy to offer, so not being able to see the puppy with your own eyes is the biggest red flag.

What Are Craigslist Puppy Scams?

Puppy scams on Craigslist can be difficult to spot, but the general story is the same no matter the situation. Here’s how the scam works.

You Contact a Seller About a Puppy on Craigslist

You find a puppy for sale on Craigslist and message the seller, letting them know you're interested. The seller may ask questions about your ability to care for the puppy in an attempt to appear compassionate, but overall, they seem eager to sell.

Legitimate sellers will likely include information about the dog’s personality, age, and if it’s up-to-date on shots. They’ll also have multiple pictures and decent grammar.

Example of a Craigslist puppy scam
It can be difficult to tell a legitimate puppy listing from a fake Craigslist puppy at first glance. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

If you contact a Craigslist puppy scammer, they’ll likely only want to communicate via email. Look out for people who overly try to convince you that there's nothing to worry about—they’re trying to put your mind at ease and build trust. They’ll also want to gain sympathy by sharing a sad story about why they can no longer keep the dog, such as moving or losing the loved one to who owned the dog.

Example message from a Craigslist puppy scammer
Scammers will often have elaborate (and often sad) stories as to why they are selling their puppy.

The Seller Can't Meet You But Asks for Payment

The seller will ask you to wire payment for the puppy via Western Union or pay them electronically through a service such as Venmo.

If you request to meet the puppy before you pay them (which is a normal request), they’ll provide excuses for why they’re unable to meet. A popular reason is that they’re too far away and but they’ll be happy to ship the puppy to you. They’ll also likely insist on communicating only via email and won’t provide you with a phone number.

Example Message From Scammer

I'm very sorry. I am currently out of town and won't be able to meet you in person. But don't worry, we can ship the puppy to you safely. If you want to wire me the money I will organize shipping, no worries. It will be easy. 

Many scammers will ask you to wire them money through Western Union or MoneyGram, then disappear as soon as they receive the payment. However, some scammers don’t cut off contact after the first payment. Instead, they’ll keep asking you for money.

They’ll claim the dog needs an emergency vet visit or unforeseen costs in transporting the dog to you. No matter what the seller claims, don’t send them money until you’ve met the dog in person.

You Send the Money and Don't Hear Back from the Seller

Once you send money for the puppy, you suddenly lose contact with the seller. They’re not answering your emails, and they didn’t provide you with a phone number, so you’re unable to reach out. The person you sent money to is a scammer. They didn’t have a puppy to sell you, and they’ve stolen the money you sent to purchase the puppy.

Don't Hand Over Any Money Until You Have the Puppy

If a Craigslist seller refuses to meet you in person so you can meet and pick up the puppy, it's likely a scam. Don't hand over any money until you have the puppy and try to buy locally only so you can pick the puppy up yourself.

In some cases, the seller (i.e., the scammer) may continue contact for a while in an attempt to steal even more money from you. They may request more money to pay for vaccinations, dog crates, and shipping charges.

The Bait & Switch Scam

An alternative version of this scam to be aware of involves sellers looking for money and looking to sell you a dog separate from the advertisement. All the steps leading up to the sale will be similar:

  • You’ll see an ad for a dog on Craigslist.
  • You’ll contact the seller, and the seller will offer you a great deal on the dog.
  • The seller will sell you a dog, but it won’t be the one you saw online.

The dog could be a different breed, or it could be extremely sick, costing you a lot of money in vet bills. Avoid this scam by meeting the seller and the dog in person and asking for its health recorders and breed documentation before paying.

Red Flags of Craigslist Puppy Scams

Many pure breed dogs from legit breeders can cost thousands of dollars. If you’ve been looking for a dog for a while and finally find one at a reasonable price, look out for these red flags before you send any money:

  • The seller doesn’t offer to meet in person. Reputable breeders want to make sure their dogs go to good homes, and they’ll want to have you meet the dog in person before agreeing to sell it.
  • The seller asks you to wire them the payment. Scammers often ask for wire transfers through services such as Western Union or MoneyGram because it’s hard to trace, and there’s no way to get your money back once you send it.
  • The price is too good of a bargain. Pure breed dogs from legitimate breeders typically sell for at least $1,000, depending on the breed. If someone is claiming to be a breeder and is selling a dog for a couple of hundred dollars or less, chances are, it’s a scam.
  • The seller will only connect through email. Many scammers will only communicate through email because it’s easier for them to disappear after getting money. A legitimate seller will be willing to provide a phone number or speak with you in person.

When you’re browsing posts, be wary of:

  • Free pets or pure breed puppies at a low price.
  • Posts with vague information, only one picture, or have poor grammar.

How to Beat Craigslist Puppy Scams

Puppy scams work because there are limited regulations on selling and buying animals. If you think you’re being pulled into a Craigslist puppy scam, follow these tips to avoid losing money:

  • Ask to meet the seller and puppy in person.
  • Don’t send payments to the seller before meeting a puppy.
  • Don’t provide personal information such as banking information or a social security number.
  • Ask for proof of health records and screenings for the dog.
  • If you’re getting a pure breed dog, ask for a DNA test or documentation proving its breed.

Have You Fallen For This Craigslist Puppy Scam?

Craigslist puppy scams can happen to anyone looking to get a dog on Craigslist. And unfortunately, once you’ve wired the scammer money, there’s no way to get your money back. Here's what to do if you've fallen for this scam:

Report Craigslist Puppy Scams

If you fall victim to a Craigslist puppy scam, the first thing to do is contact Craigslist and report the fraud. Provide as much detail about the con as possible. Craigslist won’t get your money back, but they can take down the post to keep others from losing money.

Next, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). When you report the scam, you’ll get steps to make sure the scammer can’t access any personal information.

You can also file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office. Reporting fraud won’t necessarily get the scammer caught or get you your money back, but informing these organizations brings attention to the scam and prevents others from being scammed.

Cancel the Money Transfer

It might be too late to do this, but you can try to contact your bank and try to cancel the money transfer. The bank may be able to reverse the charges so you don't lose your money. 

You can also report the fraud to your bank and see if there's any protection for your money on that end.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you buy puppies on Craigslist?

Yes, there are many sellers who have puppies for sale on Craigslist. However, be aware—many of these listings could be scams. Scammers post fake puppy listings on the site in an attempt to steal your money. 

Is it safe to buy a puppy on Craigslist?

Craigslist isn't the safest place to buy a puppy online. Other sites such as OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace, which have their own payment system, can be safer since buyer protection isn't offered when buying things on Craigslist.

How can I be sure a puppy on Craigslist is legit?

The best way to tell if a puppy ad on Craigslist isn't a scam is to see the puppy for yourself and hand over money only when you have the puppy in your clutches. Also, look out for other red flags, such as a very low price or a pushy seller.

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