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SCAM ALERT: Online Puppy Sales

Lucythe Golden Retriever pup

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       If you or someone you know are considering buying a puppy you /they have seen on the internet -- BEWARE! We are altogether too frequesntly being contacted by people who have lost their "puppy deposits" to scammers and on-line thieves! The elderly are often targets, so if you know of an older friend who is lonely and wants an animal companion, please help him or her to make a safe choice. (Please see: "I just want the puppies" | Gardiner woman's life savings wiped out amid online pet scam.)

         NOTE: On May 2, 2019, CBS This Morning did an investigative report called "Fake breeders are scamming people into buying puppies that don't exist". One interesting fact that we learned from the report is, according to the Better Business Bureau, "at least 80 percent of websites advertising pets for sale, the vast majority believed to be puppies, are frauds and mostly based in West Africa." Watch or read the report here.


  • WIshbone, a lemon dal.Use temporary web sites to post adorable puppies. THESE PUPPIES DO NOT EXIST! The pictures you are falling in love with are likely stock or "pirated" photos of puppies the scammer has never even seen. Just do an internet search on "free [your preferred breed] puppy photos" and see how many pictures come up. (I did, and actually found the photo at the right of my own adopted dog! It was taken without permission from his online rescue listing and made available for free download from two separate "stock" photo sites!)

  • Use throw away cell phones. You may have a contact number one day, and the line is disconnected the next.

  • Build trust with you until you put down a deposit or make a payment. They may ask for payment by check, money order, prepaid gift cards, whatever -- and after they get your money, they disappear. Or even worse, contact you again with a story about some unforeseen circumstance that requires another payment -- THEN, they disappear with your money. Common scam tactics used by internet sellers to get more money from a consumer include: “Crate didn’t meet airline standards, so you need to pay for a different one.” “Puppy needs medical attention, so you’ll have to pay for the services before transport.” “Too warm/cold, we need to buy special devices to keep the pet comfortable during transport.” “Date doesn’t work with the airline; need you to pay a reservation change fee.”

  • Offer to deliver the puppy someplace near you -- then never show up.


  • FIRST AND FOREMOST: DO NOT buy puppies sight unseen online! To repeat that, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER buy puppies sight unseen online. ALWAYS INSIST that you must meet the puppies' parents and see where they live. Avoid breeders who offer to meet you at a “convenient” public location and will not allow you to see where the animals are kept.

  • Research the breed. Learn all you can about ideal breeding conditions, common health issues, and average selling price. If you find a puppy being sold at a significantly discounted and uncommon price, it is likely a scam.

  • READ our information on how to identify a quality breeder. See "Additional Resources," below, for articles on our website, available from the Wisconsin Department of Trade, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and a very complete Puppy Scam page from the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

  • Research the particular breeder you are considering buying from. Search the internet for info on the breeder, then search the email address the breeder is using, as scammers often use the same email address across multiple websites. Finally, if the breeder’s website contains testimonials, conduct an internet search of the text of the testimonial. If the same or similar text appears on other websites, the breeder is likely a scammer.

  • If you are in Wisconsin, ASK for the breeder's/ seller's STATE DOG SELLER LICENSE NUMBER.

  • Research the puppy itself. If the seller claims the dog is registered with the AKC, for instance, contact the AKC and double-check (or check the full registered names of the parents). Do a search on the photo of the puppy to see if it appears on other websites.

  • NEVER put down a deposit until you have met the seller, the puppy and the parents! DO NOT PAY by wiring money, sending gift cards, or sending money using apps such as Venmo, Zelle or CashApp. These transactions cannot be refunded and are not traceable -- which is why a scammer will insist upon them. . Use a credit card which will allow you to dispute a purchase. And use the credit card through a service such as PayPal, which will also allow a purchase dispute AND keep your credit card number private.

  • SECURE screen shots of puppy sellers' website in case the site disappears. Keep copies of ALL correspondence with the seller.

  • USE the screen shots and other information to REPORT THE SCAMMERS using the DATCP Dog Seller complaint form found here.

  • DON'T make it easy for future scammers -- consider "signing" all of the photos you post of your own dogs. Check your privacy settings on social media, and consider using copyright notices or watermarks as shown on the photos on this page.

       Please check your local shelter and rescue websites -- many of them have adorable puppies and great adult dogs available for adoption. One of them might be the perfect dog for you!

Lucy is a beautiful golden retriever who was purchased from a responaible, reputable breeder.

This adorable puppy was purchased in person from a responsible breeder. To minimize the possibility of a scammer using our photo to sell non-existent puppies online, our photographer has "watermarked" it and posted his copyright notice.


Additional Resources:

What Is A Puppy Mill?
What Can I Do?
Laws/ Legislation


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© Copyright, 2008. The Wisconsin Puppy MIll Project
P.O. Box 926    *    Sheboygan, WI 53082-0926   *

Article Copyright © 2005, by Eilene Ribbens. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
"Lucy" Photos Copyright © 2017, by Pat Crean, Flying Spots Photograpy. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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