Identified Scam:

Online Puppy Scams: Beware When Buying From Craigslist or Facebook

Stay cautious when buying pets from private sellers online—many listings could be fake with scammers attempting to steal your money.


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Updated 14 April 2021
Online Puppy Scams: Beware When Buying From Craigslist or Facebook
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Identified Scam:

Key Finding

Several listings for puppies for sale on platforms like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are fake. 


Key Risk

You could lose money that you send to the scammer for the puppy, additional shots, shipping, and more. 

Sections on this page
  1. What Are Online Puppy Scams?
  2. How to Beat and Avoid Online Puppy Scams
  3. Online Puppy Scam Examples
  4. Have You Fallen For This Scam?
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

Online puppy scams aren't new, but there are more and more cases each year, with people opting to buy puppies online from private sellers. According to BBB Scam Tracker, there were approximately 4,300 online puppy scam cases reported in 2020 alone.

What Are Online Puppy Scams?

These scams all follow a similar script. You find a puppy online, the seller has a reason why you can't see the puppy in person, you pay for the puppy, the seller disappears. While there are some variations to this scam, they all end up with the same result—you lose your money. Here's how the scam works.

You Find a Great Deal, But the Seller is Pushy

Online classified websites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace often have people selling puppies, using language like "pet for a dirt-cheap, shockingly low price, negotiable price" in the ad.

When you inquire about the ad, the seller may provide an all too convenient reason why they must sell the puppy quickly, giving you a reason for the extremely low price. The seller will seem very pushy at this stage, and won't hesitate in asking for payment.

You Are Unable to See the Puppy in Person

Before buying a puppy, you'll usually want to see it in person. In this online puppy scam, the seller will have any number of excuses as to why they can't meet in person and will have to just ship you the puppy. Whether they're out of town or have some medical emergency, they'll have an excuse and try to convince you everything is legit.

Example Listing

8 week old labrador puppy for sale - $200

Puppy is vaccinated and will come with all the official papers. We can also deliver to your address to make the transaction easier and convenient. 

The puppy was given to me but I am going on military deployment and will not be able to look after it or meet you in person as I will be out of town. I have a reliable transportation I will use to ship you the puppy to your door. 

You Send the Money for the Puppy

You agree to the sale price and send money to the seller. The seller will usually request a money transfer via a non-trackable or unprotected transfer, such as Western Union, MoneyGram wire transfer, or payment apps.

Note that the seller may add on additional fees at this point to pay for things like shipping insurance, airline fees, a travel crate, or extra shots for the puppy. 

The Seller (i.e., Scammer) Takes Your Money, and You Never Get a Puppy

After your payments have gone through, you send emails, texts, or even call the buyer, letting them know you have not received the puppy or any further information about how to get the puppy. You won't hear back from the seller because you've been scammed at this point. They've taken off with your money, and there was never a puppy in the first place.

How to Beat and Avoid Online Puppy Scams

The best way to beat an online puppy scam is never to transfer money to a seller before you have the puppy. When buying a puppy online, only hand over the money once you have the puppy in your hands. 

Safety Tip

The safest thing to do is to see and pick up the puppy in person and give the money to the seller once you have it. If the seller refuses to allow you to pick the puppy up yourself, find a puppy elsewhere as it's likely a scam.

Tell-Tale Signs of Online Puppy Scams

Although some online puppy listings may seem very legit at first, it's important to be aware of the red flags once you start communicating with the seller.

  • Seller does not accept cash:
    • A common sign of a scam is a seller who is unwilling to accept cash, only accepting wire transfers or similar forms of direct payment that can't be reversed.
  • Inability to see the puppy in person:
    • A huge red flag is that the seller won't show you the puppy in person. They might use excuses like they are out of town for work or live in a different state. Even if you offer to travel to pick the puppy up in person, they will offer excuses for why that cannot happen.
    • If the seller keeps refusing to let you see the puppy in person, try FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, or some other form of video chat to see the puppy. If they still refuse, then it's most likely a scam.
  • Additional fees:
    • If the pet is being shipped to you, you may be asked to pay for insurance, a temperature-regulated crate, paperwork, or other fees. The seller/scammer may also ask for extra money to cover veterinary costs. If these were not discussed beforehand, they should raise a red flag. The scammer will try to get as much money from you as possible.

Identifying Online Puppy Scams

  • Ask to see the puppy in person:
    • Never hand over any money until you're able to see the puppy for yourself.
    • Use modern technology to your advantage. If they're not located locally, ask to video chat with the seller so you can see the puppy and ensure that it's not a puppy scam.
  • Do a reverse image search:
    • Using Google Chrome, right-click on the image of the puppy and then click "Search Google for Image." You'll be able to see if that same picture has been used before for a different listing or on another website. This will help you tell if the puppy listing is legit or if the seller has just used someone else's picture.
  • Do your research:
    • Ask the seller about the puppy, its breed, and where it came from. The seller should have information about the puppy's parents.
    • Check other sites (e.g., accredited breeder sites) to find the average price for a puppy of this breed. If the puppy listed is far cheaper than the regular asking price, it may be a sign of a scam.
  • Pay with cash or credit card:
    • Paying with cash means you will meet the seller in person and hand over the cash when they give you the puppy.
    • If the seller isn't local (and you trust them enough to pay them before getting the puppy), using a credit card may be the safest option. Many credit card companies allow you to dispute fraudulent transactions and get your money back. However, many private sellers won't accept credit card transactions, so it's still best to only buy locally and pay with cash when you get the puppy.

Online Puppy Scam Examples

Example of online puppy scam
Online puppy listings will look legit and there may not be any signs of a scam at first. (Source: NYTimes.com)

Example email from online puppy scammer
Scammers will send a lot of information to you to trick you into thinking the sale is legit. A tell-tale sign to look out for is the seller being pushy about having the puppy transported to you. (Source: TopDogTips.com)

Have You Fallen For This Scam?

The ability to get your money back depends on how you paid the scammer. Unfortunately, if you paid via wire transfer, Western Union, or MoneyGram, you probably won't be able to get your money back.

If you paid through a payment app like PayPal or Venmo or by credit card, you could make a fraud claim and request the payment to be reversed or refunded; however, it's not always guaranteed.

Report an Online Puppy Scam

When you start thinking that you could be getting scammed, start recording as much as you can with screenshots, emails, text messages, and any other information exchanged with the scammer.

Use this information when you report the fraud to the website and authorities. 

Depending on which site you bought your puppy from, you can report the scam to:

How Others Have Fallen for this Scam

If you've unfortunately had your money stolen by an online puppy scammer, you're not alone—there are countless tales of others who have also been tricked across the country. 

A man in Kansas was trying to buy a French bulldog and lost $940 in the process. He used what he thought was a legitimate website; however, it was later discovered to be fake.

In another incident, a woman in California was asked to pay $600 in gift cards for a Yorkshire Terrier, then $750 for pet insurance, and $850 for a regulated crate. In the end, she refused to pay the additional costs but never received a refund for the initial amount she paid for the puppy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I avoid online puppy scams?

The best way to avoid an online puppy scam is to buy/adopt puppies from legitimate sites and breeders instead of buying them from private sellers on sites like Craigslist and Facebook. If you choose to buy from these sites, be on the lookout for red flags and always pick the puppy up in person. 

Is it safe to buy a puppy online?

Buying puppies online is never 100% since sites make it easy for scammers to post free ads. It is possible, however, to buy a puppy online and not be scammed. Just be aware of the red flags and tell-tale signs of a scam.

How do I report a puppy scam?

You can report puppy scams to the website with the listing, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Unfortunately, it's usually unlikely that you'll get any money back, but reporting it will help take down scam listings and help authorities catch the scammers.

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