How To Spot a Puppy Scam Online

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The holiday season is rife with scammers trying to separate people from their money, including prospective puppy owners looking for a pet.

In this article, I’ll tell you how to spot an online puppy scam as well as what steps to take when you find a pet for sale on the internet. We’ll also get some tips from money expert Clark Howard, who says that puppy scams are prevalent during the holidays.

Buyer Beware: Online Puppy Scams

“Con artists have always used that time period from Thanksgiving to Christmas to falsely list pets for sale,” Clark says. “It happens every year leading up to Christmas when so many children somehow think that the perfect Christmas gift is to have a new puppy.”

According to a 2022 report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), losses from pet scams in North America were expected to reach nearly $2 million last year.  While that total is down from its 2020-2021 peak of $3 million, the average loss per incident was $850 in 2022, which represents a 60% hike since 2017, according to the BBB.

If you want to know how you can keep from being defrauded, read on.

Quick Links: Online Puppy Scams

How Does an Online Puppy Scam Work?

There are many variations of online puppy scams, including those involving “private sellers” or breeders, and you can get ripped off at any point in the transaction.

Here’s how typical online puppy scams work.

Let’s say you find a website or someone on social media listing a pet for sale.

According to the International Pet & Animal Transportation Association, people who call themselves “private sellers” (read that “scammers”) “say they are only giving the pet away because their child passed away, that they moved for a new job and cannot provide enough attention for the animal due to work hours or their new house won’t allow pets.”

In other cases, the scammer will claim to have a whole litter of pups. After you’ve contacted the purported seller, you’ll get pictures of the “litter” so that you can choose a cute puppy.


“Then they say that they’re going to send it to you, and they need money for the shipping service for the pet,” Clark. says. “Whatever tall story they tell you, they try to get money from you twice: once for purchasing the puppy, then from shipping the puppy.”

“Sight unseen, people send money to the ‘breeder,’ and then, of course, there’s no pet.”

Clark wants you to save yourself a lot of heartache and money by protecting yourself against online puppy scams.

How To Spot an Online Puppy Scam

If you find someone selling puppies online, proceed with extreme caution. While there are some reputable online sellers, there also are many scammers out there!

In fact, according to John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’s Stop Puppy Mills campaign, “If you buy a puppy online, it’s very likely you’re getting scammed,” Goodwin says on the HSUS website. “Even if you get the puppy you ordered, it may have come from a puppy mill and they won’t show you the deplorable conditions they’re kept in.”

How Can You Buy Puppies Online Safely?

You may be able to find puppies for sale online quite easily, but unfortunately, the true origins of those animals could be a mystery. Here are some ways you can protect your wallet and the animal when buying a puppy online.

Consider Only Licensed Breeders

The Animal Welfare Act requires that most wholesale breeders and dealers be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

On its website, the USDA has an Animal Care Public Search Tool that allows you to look up licensed breeders.

Research the Breeder

Once you find a licensed breeder, you still will want to know more about which breeds they specialize in and how they conduct business.

The American Kennel Club has an online Breeder Referral Program that helps people find pure-breed kennels that are registered with the organization. The club also provides litter records as a service to prospective buyers (must register on the site).

You should also check online with the BBB to see if there are any complaints about the breeder.


Make an In-Person Visit

Before you buy, if at all possible, visit the breeder or facility in person to see the puppy and complete the transaction.

Before any money is transferred, Clark says following his simple rule will save your wallet:

“It’s the ‘Craigslist rule’: You never, ever, ever send money to somebody you’re not seeing face to face.”

Another good reason to visit in person is to get a feel for the environment in which the pet was raised.

On the HSUS website, Goodwin says, “If you are buying a puppy from a breeder, make sure you meet the breeder, meet the mother dog and see where she lives.”

How To Report a Puppy Scam

If you were defrauded of money in the scam, start by contacting your local police department. You might also want to reach out to your state consumer protection office.

Final Thoughts

Clark says con artists are using online puppy scams to separate you from your money. Remember the following safety tips:

  • Buy only from licensed breeders.
  • Do your research on the breeder.
  • Don’t send your money to someone you don’t know. Buy your pup in person.
  • Report the scam to the proper authorities.