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Americans Lost a Staggering $1 Million in 2023 to Puppy Scams

Written by aslmad.yaz


As the holiday season approaches, the allure of adding a furry companion to the family grows stronger. This is why the search term “puppies for sale” is observed to spike in December every year, Foxy 99 reports. Yet, amidst this enthusiasm, it’s necessary to remember that dogs aren’t merely seasonal presents; they signify enduring commitments.

Regrettably, a disheartening trend emerges where some individuals exchange their older canine companions at shelters, seeking to replace them with shiny new puppies. This disturbing practice sheds light on the darker side of “Christmas puppies,” emphasizing the need to consider the long-term responsibility and care that comes with adopting a pet during this festive period.

Additionally, this excitement can lead to heartbreak, with unsuspecting individuals falling prey to online puppy scams. Despite sending funds to alleged sellers, many buyers end up empty-handed, receiving neither the promised puppy nor any subsequent communication.

Americans have lost over $1 million to puppy scams reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). There were over a thousand reported cases from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31 this year. Thus, the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org is warning families about online scams during the holiday season, as per CW 33.

In 2022, reports to the BBB regarding puppy scams disclosed total losses of $1.34 million from January to September. 2020 and 2021 saw peak figures of $3.3 million and $3 million, respectively, as per the BBB Scam Tracker.

Californians lost the most money to puppy scams

The Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org revealed California was the top state with the highest losses to puppy adoption scams in 2023. The total loss in California amounted to $90,000, with victims losing around $1,206 on average.

Following California, Texas ranked second among states facing high monetary losses from puppy scams, totaling $55,955. Other states in the top five included Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. 

According to Foxy 99, it’s essential to note that the numbers reported might not show the whole picture. In more than 1,000 reports people made about puppy scams to the BBB, 21% of people didn’t specify their location. This accounted for more than a quarter-million dollars in losses, totaling $233,718.

How the puppy scam takes place

A man holding his phone and credit card, similar to the people who fall victim for online puppy scams and share their credit card information.
(Photo Credit: nomadnes | Getty Images)

The puppy scam typically begins with the creation of convincing but phony websites, as per the Detroit Free Press.

These fraudulent puppy sites — frequently registered outside of North America — pop up and vanish swiftly, posing challenges for law enforcement. These scammers often operate from abroad, complicating legal actions, according to the BBB.

While a buyer might prefer using a credit card for added security, the perpetrators will falsely assert card issues, signaling a major warning. If you come across such claims, it’s best to terminate the transaction immediately. The grim reality is that scammers now possess your credit card details, likely for future misuse.

The next thing scammers do is persuade the buyer to use peer-to-peer apps like Zelle or PayPal or to purchase Visa gift cards from places like Dollar General. These gift cards and payment apps allow them to steal cash in a quicker and easier way. The crooks will then ask the buyer to reveal the numbers on the back of a gift card, sometimes even asking for photographs of the card and its receipt.

Unfortunately, the scam doesn’t stop there — the criminals try to extract more money from the victims.

After the initial payment for the pet, the fraudster manipulates the dog’s shipment as a ploy to extort additional funds. They demand hundreds of dollars in supposed shipping fees, even after the buyer has already paid $600 or more for the pet.

Red flags in online puppy purchases

There are several signs to watch for when considering getting a puppy online, as highlighted by MyTwinTiers.com. One red flag is if the seller insists you can’t see the puppy in person before adoption or if they can’t provide several pictures or videos of the animal. To avoid potential fraud, you can conduct a Google image search to verify if any photos they do send are stock images or are used on other fraudulent websites. Alternatively, requesting a photo of the person with the puppy, holding a piece of paper with their name and a specific date, can be helpful.

Be cautious if the seller demands upfront payment through methods like Western Union, MoneyGram, Zelle, CashApp, or gift cards. While deposits are common for securing a place on a breeder’s waiting list, acceptable payment methods for deposits include cash, check, credit card, or PayPal, which offer protection against fraudulent activity.

Another warning sign is if the seller or a third party asks for additional payments for items like a climate-controlled shipping crate, vaccinations, transportation, or life insurance. Some scammers promise to refund shipping costs upon delivery of the puppy but never follow through. They often resort to threats of animal abandonment or abuse charges if fees aren’t paid, using fear tactics in their emails.

If a breeder’s website lacks information about the puppy’s parents or health records, or if they can’t provide AKC Certification, it’s another red flag. Also, if the puppy is being offered at a much lower price compared to the breed’s average cost, it should be a cause for concern.

Moreover, apart from looking for these warning signs, you can consider alternative adoption methods. Check out local animal shelters or rescue groups to avoid falling victim to these online puppy scams.


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