Internet pet sale scams

We all know the internet can be a great place to buy anything from books to rare gifts, but it's not where you should go to buy a new pet.

In addition to disreputable dealers and puppy mills, internet scammers have crept into the realm of online pet sales, stealing money from unsuspecting people who think their new dog or cat is on the way to his or her new home, when in fact there was never really an animal at all. The only party harmed in these scams is the person who is out hundreds or thousands of dollars.

In the real world of online pet sales, families often lose significant money when the pet they ordered falls ill soon after arrival, but the real victims are the breeding animals stuck in factory-style operations, churning out babies to be sold off for a quick profit.

Over the 'net, overseas

Tens of thousands of dogs are shipped into the U.S. from puppy mills in foreign countries, purchased by people over internet sites. Many people who have purchased puppies and kittens online find that their new pets are sick and often die from their health problems.

Some never even knew they were dealing with someone outside of the U.S. or that their puppy was born overseas before being sold to a U.S. broker. A good rule of thumb is to not deal with anyone who claims to be a distant buyer, seller or adopter.

“If you buy a puppy online, it’s very likely you’re getting scammed,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States' Stop Puppy Mills campaign. “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. If you are buying a puppy from a breeder, make sure you meet the breeder, meet the mother dog and see where she lives.”

Where's my puppy?

The cute puppies in photos on legitimate-looking websites are almost too cute to be real. Often, they aren't.

One scam promises you a free puppy—as long as you pay the shipping. Once the scammers get your "shipping" costs, the scammer says your puppy is stuck at the airport due to customs complications and you are asked to send more money. Finally, the scammer (and the puppy who never existed in the first place) disappear. In many cases, victims think their dog is at the airport waiting for them after they've sent two or three money orders.

Some fraudulent email scammers prey upon the kindheartedness of dog lovers who want to offer homes to puppies and their parents.

English bulldogs and Yorkshire terriers are two of the breeds most often mentioned in puppy money order scams, perhaps because they are such popular and expensive breeds. 

If you buy a puppy online, it’s very likely you’re getting scammed.

John Goodwin, senior director of the HSUS Stop Puppy Mills campaign

Warning signs

Internet pet-selling scams often include a long-distance seller—claiming to be in another country doing missionary work—who cannot keep the dog because the climate is too hot.

In other cases, the seller claims to represent an animal shelter or a good Samaritan, offering the breeds for "adoption." In these cases, it's important to remember that reputable shelters do not place puppies by sending out mass emails and then shipping animals to people.
Internet scammers can deceive would-be buyers by using readily available online photos or by using stolen photos of other people's pets to represent the non-existent animal. They will often copy the claims of legitimate rescue groups and attempt to sound reputable by saying that they will only adopt the pet to someone who has a fenced yard, for example.

They will also copy the text from breeder ads and claim to have registration certificates, vet records and health guarantees.

Be a hero: Rescue a pet

So where can you go to find a legitimate source of a dog or cat? Your first stop should be your local shelter. Even if you are looking for a specific breed, the shelter is a great first option, with one out of every four dogs in U.S. shelters being a purebred. Check out breed rescue groups for a larger selection of animals of a certain type.