Avoiding Puppy Scams
We've all seen the posts...we've all heard the horror stories...yet another scammer has swindled an unsuspecting family whose only downfall was seekng a puppy to love and enjoy. It's awful! It's sickening! And it's absolutely devastating to those families! My heart truly goes out to those folks who were fooled into thinking that they were communicating with an actual breeder; fooled into thinking that they'd be bringing a puppy home and then being shattered when they get ghosted. And I get so incredibly angry that someone could be so heartless as to take advantage of those families! Sure, those families have lost money. But they've also lost the puppy whose pictures they've been pining over and excitedly awaiting. They've also lost trust, they've lost confidence in their own abilities to determine what's real or not, they've lost the ability to fill a void and they've lost hope. I can't even begin to imagine the confusion, heartache and utter hopelessness someone goes through when they've been scammed.
I decided to put this page together to inform others about scammers and how to potentially avoid becoming a victim. Although what scammers are doing is incredibly horrendous, it's up to us as puppy buyers to be diligent and do our utmost thorough research. I know how exciting it can be to find a puppy, and sometimes we can get carried away with our excitement; and that's when opportunitst scammers readily take advantage. Fortunately, there are some Red Flags, when encountering scammers, and I'll be going over those in the information below. I'll start by going over some basics:
- What is a puppy scammer?
Puppy scammers are people who post puppy sales ads, who do not actually have puppies for sale. Most generally they steal photos or videos from legitimate breeder websites/pages, use stock photos or other images/footage to display in their ads. They collect deposits or payments from puppy buyers, then block the buyer after collecting their money. They typically change social media profiles frequently, as to evade those who've been scammed and to create a new image/name for themselves, so they're unrecognizable.
- Why are they scamming people?
The short answer is: for money. They "sell" the same puppy to multiple people by collecting several deposits on a puppy that doesn't actually exist.
- What are some Red Flags to look for?
Scammers have been known to steal personal profile pictures and other people's family photos to create a very convincing image. They've become less "bot-like" and more "human-like"; seeing their nice little family photos and pictures of dogs gives us a sense that they're much like us...family folks who love animals. Far from it! They've even gone so far as to create websites, to lure buyers in and make them think that they're a legitimate breeder. I've had photos and videos taken from my Facebook page and used in a scammer's ad! Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends and followers who instantly recognized my puppies and alerted me right away!
- Poor spelling/grammar/misuse of words or phrases: One of the first red flags most notice is a language barrier. Much of the time, these scammers don't speak english as a first language; so if your native tounge is english (or you speak english fluently), you'll be sure to almost immediately recognize poor/improper spelling and grammar. This is not a surefire way to differentiate a scammer from an actual breeder, however they don't often address you by name, they'll usually address you as "ma'am/sir", "miss" or "madam" to make themselves sound more respectful/respectable and they'll often use these words repeatedly within a conversation.
- Cheap puppies: This is one of THE TOP reasons I believe many people get scammed! Cheap puppies! Many people are just looking for cheap or convenient...or both. A scammer will, most times, offer puppies for sale at a fraction of the price of a higher quality, health tested, responsibly bred dog. This tends to really lure people in. They see the super low price tag and think that they've lucked out finding a cute puppy at such a bargain, so they jump at the opportunity to pay a deposit to reserve that puppy. The old adage definitely still rings true: if it looks to good to be true, it probably is! No matter what anyone says! I don't care what kind of charisma, explaination or impressive advertising skills they've got...
- Fake profiles: Most of the time, their social profiles are constructed quickly and for temporary use. Scammers will have very few images other than a few profile pictures of the person they stole images from, they may display group family photos and sometimes photos of dogs. Some of them won't have any photos of dogs and some will have multiple photos of different breeds that they use to scam others with. You'll notice that they either don't have a friends list publicized or that their friends list is filled with foriegners; many of them residing in places like Nigeria or South Africa.
- But how can you tell if it's a "fake profile"? You can't...not really anyway. You just have to use your best judgement; if something doesn't look or feel quite right, go with your gut. It's probably better to avoid them anyway, if there's not much public info for potential puppy buyers to get to know them as a breeder (or even as a person). When making such an important decision such as purchasing a puppy, it's very important that you get to know and get comfortable with the breeder you're working with. Building relationships, transparency and strong communication help make the puppy buying experience that much more enjoyable. You can also check their profile link by clicking on the 3 dots at the top of their profile (next to the "Add Friend" and "Message" buttons). If the profile link/name doesn't match their displayed name, that's an indicator of a new or fake profile. Not always, but for the most part.
- Free delivery: Seriously...these scammers offer free delivery of your puppy, right to your doorstep! What could be cooler than that? I saw a scammer advertising puppies and they offered 100% free personal next-day delivery to my door. All I had to do was pay a deposit and I could pay the rest upon delivery. And when I told them I'd just pay in full at pick-up, that I could drive to their location that day (which they claimed to be about an hour from my home), they suddenly were "out of state" and couldn't meet. Then how on earth can you guarantee next-day delivery? Oh, they had someone on stand-by to deliver. But wait a minute...how is that personal delivery if you have someone else do it? This is another red flag by the way. When you're willing to meet with them right then or when the puppy is available, they're suddenly unavailable to meet. Even if you make arrangements to meet the very next day, they'll have some kind of excuse as to why it isn't possible. But they're more than willing to take a deposit, in fact they NEED a deposit the day before or even hours before pick-up! This is one of those times where you'll just have to use your common sense and ask yourself whether this really feels appropriate or not.
- Demanding a Deposit: Please don't get me wrong or think I'm a hypocrite; I certainly require deposits to reserve my puppies. In fact, just recently I've changed my policy to where I even require a deposit from those who wish to be placed on my waiting list. Deposits are expected and necessary for many breeders...and it's that very practice that scammers have adopted in order to take advantage of others. Deposits have been commonplace for many breeders, for many years. It's a way to solidify an agreement, arrangements and secure a permanent home for each of their puppies. It's a way to weed out those who are unsure or just "browsing" for a puppy, and to determine who their committed, prepared, serious puppy people are!
- What's not commonplace is for breeders to demand payment almost instantly upon first communication. With scammers, that's almost always what the initial correspondance goes to; they don't offer much information on their puppies, they don't send additional pictures or videos, they don't ask questions about you or your family/lifestyle, they don't have applications or waiting lists, they just want a deposit and the puppy is all yours! Pretty simple, right? They will usually mention a deposit several times and almost always ask that it be paid through CashApp or a similar cash-transfer type of app that's easy to sign up for with false information, create multiple accounts and disappear from without a trace. I've also seen scammers ask that you buy some kind of cash card or gift card, or wire it to another source such as one called Cameroon. If you see that name come up in the conversation, it's highy likely that they're a scammer. There will typically be numerous excuses as to why you can't pay your deposit through a more secure source or in person, no matter how convenient you make arrangements for them. Likewise, they'll have a plethora of excuses as to why you can't just pay for the puppy in full upon pick-up...even if the puppy is said to be ready to go that day. They'll still request a deposit to "hold" the puppy for you, even if only for a few hours. If something's just not adding up, it's best to just walk away!
- No Phone Calls/No Video Chats: One of the best things about today's technology is the multiple ways in which to communicate. Phone, text, Messenger, email, video calling, FaceTime, etc. A scammer will NEVER video chat or FaceTime with you! They'll never speak with you on the phone either. If you're ever uncertain about a breeder, one of the best ways to clear up any doubt is to ask for a phone call. Or even ask to video chat so that you can see the puppies, live. Many breeders I know are more than happy to call, FaceTime or meet in person; I'm one of them as well. I live pretty far out in the country, I have horrible service at home and sometimes I can't video chat, but I'm always happy to give you a call or meet with you locally! I can also offer updated or personalized photos and/or videos.
- If they can't provide you with at least a few photo or video updates, it's probably because they don't have any. Ask questions. Ask lots of questions! And if they can't call or FaceTime, ask for photos and/or videos of the puppies and parents, ask them to take a picture of a puppy (or puppies) with your name and the current date. On another note: if you happen to actually be communicating with a breeder and they don't want to answer your questions, although they may not be a scammer, you may want to step back and reconsider whether or not that's the type of breeder you'd like to do business with. If they're unwilling to answer questions, or just get plain annoyed that you ask so many, that's probably not a good sign either.
- Transfer of Ownership Fees: There have been quite a few stories from those who were scammed and those who were almost scammed, mentioning that the "breeder" needed to collect a fee to transfer ownership. There will never be a time when the breeder needs a fee from you to transfer AKC paperwork! Never! If the breeder pre-registers their litters, you're all set with your puppy's registration and should either expect it in the mail or receive it when you pick up your puppy. If they don't pre-register, you will receive a puppy application that you can fill out and mail in, or complete online. That's where your transfer fee applies; and it always goes directly to AKC...NEVER to the breeder! Even if they sell you an adult dog, you receive a registration certificate with a transfer form on the back; you will need to complete the process yourself and pay a transfer fee directly to AKC. There should never be a time when the breeder needs any form of transfer fee!
- No Page, No Site, No Reviews: A great way to determine what kind of person you're dealing with is to take a look at their social media profiles, business pages, websites or testimonials. If their social media is lacking or leaves much to be desired, you may have to dig deeper. Look for reviews on pages, testimonials from other puppy buyers. See what others are saying about that breeder. There is a group on Facebook called: Boston Terrier Scammers Exposed 2020-2021; I highly recommend you join the group! Members share their encounters and communication with scammers, post photos of scammer profiles, names they go by and screenshots of conversations. There is quite a bit of very useful information and it is continuously updated with helpful tips, member posts exposing scammers in real-time, along with past scammer aliases and sometimes their true identity. It's been a very helpful group for those who are searching for a puppy and would like assistance in knowing who to watch out for. If you'd like to join, please follow the link below. Be aware that you will need to confirm your identity before joining.
- How can I be sure I won't get scammed?
There are several things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of one of these scams. Most of it has to do with common sense and your "gut feeling". Take a look at some of the red flags, if you see red flags all over the place, go with your gut to help you determine if it really feels like a safe transaction.
I've seen many people say "make sure you see the puppies in person before placing a deposit!" Well, we all know that that's not possible in all situations. Some breeders don't allow home visits (I'm one of them), some breeders may just be too far for you to make a day or weekend trip to visit their location...it can be a little nerve-wracking to send out money to someone you barely know. This is why it's SO important to GET TO KNOW YOUR BREEDER!
When looking to purchase a puppy, you're preparing to make a huge investment, it's a life-changing decision and a lifelong commitment to that animal...why not treat it as such? Do your homework on the breeder, ask around the community (social media, forums, breeder platforms, etc) and see what others have to say about your chosen breeder. And for Heaven sake, NEVER buy a puppy on an impulse!! Don't scour listings looking for a puppy within a price range in the amount of cash you have in-hand! Reputable, responsible breeders will have waiting lists and many times, applications. Many of them don't offer breeding rights. Many of them won't have puppies readily available at any given time, nor conveniently around tax season, Christmas time, etc. And if by some chance you find a cheap puppy that's available now, with breeding rights, and the breeder indiscriminately sells to anyone who has the cash to buy their pups...you should probably avoid them!
Make contact, build a relationship, follow their pages or website, keep track of their breeding practices and past litters. In the end, you'll be happy you did!
- What can I do if I get scammed?
Unfortunately, there are very few, almost nonexistent cases where people are able to recoup money they've lost to a scammer. The best thing you can do is report, report, report! Keep screenshots of your messages and the scammers profile before it disappears; report the scammer to group admins, the sites you found them on or Facebook, post information in groups or other platforms to warn others, you can even report them to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) or Petscams.com.