Protect Yourself From Puppy Scams: Follow these 9 Tips to Spot and Avoid Them

stop puppy scams

Identify and steer clear of scams if you're looking for a new puppy.

There are an unfortunate number of people falling prey to puppy scammers, since it is all too easy to establish a false Internet presence, receive money that can’t be traced or refunded, and then “disappear.” [1]  Even people who would normally be  careful let themselves get talked into putting money down based on cute puppy photos or videos, or allow themselves to be persuaded by a lower purchase price than what they’ve seen elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a Golden Mountain Doodle or another puppy, here are some tips to help you avoid puppy scammers (and breeders who are less-than-reputable, including “puppy mills”).


1. A price that is significantly less than what you’ve seen elsewhere can be a warning sign. Of course, you may get a legitimate “good deal” from a puppy mill-type breeder, but saving a few dollars upfront can lead to regrets later. Early good health and socialization for the first 8 weeks of a puppy’s life are key to proper development.


2.  A legitimate breeder should have an established Web site (a Facebook page, at minimum). There should be a reasonable number of puppies advertised, and the selection should be limited to only a few breeds if it is an individual breeder.

A reputable breeder will have uniform photos of individual puppies (similar background, lighting, etc.). If you see widely differing photos, it may be that they are taken from other breeders or sites. A Google reverse-image search can help you identify photos that are listed in multiple locations.

A wide variety of breeds and puppies of varying ages will be available on a Web site for a “puppy broker,” who differs from a breeder in that they buy from, or advertise for, multiple breeders without confirmed knowledge of breeding conditions, puppy health, etc. This can be a legitimate way to purchase a puppy and would not qualify as a puppy “scam,” but you do need to be cautious if you choose to purchase a puppy from such a site. Be sure to ask questions of the individual breeder and confirm their authenticity.

If you find an individual selling puppies (particularly if they do not have a confirmed Internet presence), a good place to start is to Google their name (either personal or business) and see if you can find some legitimate information about them. Look for Google Business reviews, address information, Facebook profiles, or other identifying information.

Remember that “cloned” Facebook pages are now becoming more common, so that may not be an indicator. See how many Facebook “friends” they have (and who those friends are) and how long the page has been open. A relatively new account or a suspicious group of “friends” may be red flags.


3. Unless you buy a puppy in person and pay cash in full upon pick up, a breeder is probably going to ask for a deposit. Some people could feel uncomfortable about this, and rightly so (especially if they’ve been previously scammed). However, a deposit is simply “earnest money” that accomplishes a purpose for both buyer and seller. 

By placing a deposit, a buyer reserves the puppy of their choice and thereby guarantees that it can’t be sold out from under them.  As a buyer, you should confirm a total for all expected charges for your transaction before providing a deposit.  Likewise, a deposit protects the breeder from a buyer backing out at the last minute, leaving them “stuck” with an aging puppy that can’t be sold at market-standard prices.

Be sure that if you are paying a deposit, it is through a legitimate payment service. You will have little recourse if you use a cash app and find out the “breeder” was illegitimate. Pay Pal offers some buyer protections, as do credit card transactions through trusted, third-party payment processors. Breeders should work with you to find a comfortable payment option for you. If you feel pressured, there may be reason for concern.

Watch for added charges, such as delivery charges not previously discussed or “transfer of ownership” charges related to puppy registration. Legitimate breeders may charge for these things, but their policies should be clearly spelled out before money changes hands. If you encounter a surprise charge (especially a large one), proceed with caution.


4. Both buyers and sellers may be wary of sharing information during a transaction. Home breeders may not want to immediately provide an address to a buyer until they feel confident of the legitimacy of their interest. However, if a breeder seems unwilling to disclose, or provides conflicting information, be wary. Confirm your breeder’s location and other details before any money changes hands. If they claim a Website as theirs, make sure the information given to you coincides with what is publicly available. 

Protect your private information if you are unsure. But remember, a legitimate breeder will want to know something about you in order to confirm that their puppy is going to a good home. They also should be providing you with paperwork and a contract that will require basic contact information.


5. If you are local to your breeder,  ask if on-site visits are welcome. Kennel breeders often do not welcome visitors because of the operational and regulatory nature of their facilities, and home breeders may not prefer it because, well, their “business” is also their home.

Both types of breeders may be concerned for the health of their puppies if a large number of visitors come through their premises. However, if permitted, this can not only confirm the legitimacy of your breeder, but will help you to know how your puppy has been raised.

Even if a visit isn’t possible, a breeder should welcome Face Time or other real-time video chatting (via Google Meet, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.). During the chat, you should be able to see your puppy and ask the breeder any questions you may have.

 If you  receive a recorded video, ask the breeder to talk to  you while filming. You could even have them hold a particular object or say a specific phrase in the video. This ensures that the video is made *for you* in real time, and is not just stolen from another legitimate source.

Avoid puppy scams by visiting your puppy on-site.
Visiting your puppy on-site and seeing how it was raised can allay fears about puppy scams.


6. A breeder’s pick up or delivery options can give you insight into their legitimacy. Beware of the promise of “free delivery,” especially over a long distance (particularly if the puppy is already being sold at a comparatively low price). Delivery should always cost money. However, be suspicious of inflated delivery charges, particularly “add-ons” at the last minute where you feel pressured to pay because you’ve already initiated the process. A breeder that will “only” deliver, and not allow you to pick up, should be also considered with caution.

If you are picking up a puppy or receiving delivery of a puppy, you may want to select a public location for safety reasons. If you are comfortable with the legitimacy of your breeder, this should not be an issue.


7. Pay attention to your communications with your breeder. Read ads and note grammar and spelling in your communications, especially awkward sentence structure, stiff phrasing, or uncommon wording. Although not everyone who advertises puppies is going to be well-written or spoken, these things can be a red flag.

As well, breeders should have a certain level of professionalism, with knowledge of the breed, breeding best practices, state regulations governing the sale of puppies, paperwork that is required, and so on.


8. Pressure tactics, such as “you must choose now, or someone else is going to buy this puppy” and the like, should not be used by a legitimate breeder. Breeders know that a puppy is a family member and a long-term commitment, not a decision to be rushed into without adequate thought.

Your breeder should be able to fully answer any questions you may have, and give you space to make a personal decision. If there is someone else interested in a puppy that you have your eye on, a breeder may let you know out of courtesy. However, proceed with caution if you feel pressured.


9. Pay attention to your hesitation. People who get scammed often say, “I knew better, but…” They went against their “gut feeling” or conventional wisdom because they really wanted a puppy, they fell in love with the videos or pictures, etc.

Buying a puppy may be an emotional decision, in that you do want some sense of “connection” when you choose your puppy. However, when that happens and you get some of the “red flags” discussed here, it can be hard to say “No.” As hard as it is, don’t go against your better judgment; that may be your best protection against getting scammed.

[1] A Better Business Bureau report published at the end of 2022 reported that, while the number of people being taken in by puppy scams seems to be decreasing, the amount of the average loss is on the rise. It pays to be informed and careful!

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