Beware of Scams When Purchasing a Puppy Online

Photo Credit: Better Business Bureau

Rebecca Harpster

Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Did you celebrate National Puppy Day on March 23? The adorable pictures all over social media almost convinced me to adopt a furry friend of my own – but I decided that I didn’t want to risk upsetting my cat. Although puppies are wonderful, it’s unwise to adopt one on impulse.

Don’t be in a hurry when deciding to bring a dog in to the family. When you don’t take time to research and think it through, it can make you more vulnerable to scammers or regrettable purchases. Scammers exploit emotions tied to puppy adoption or purchase. You can avoid these heartbreaking scams and find a good fit for your home by carefully researching breed characteristics and adopting a dog from a trustworthy seller, breeder, or rescue shelter.

One of the first places prospective puppy owners turn for research is the Internet. However, a BBB International Investigations Initiative study, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” warns of the risks associated with purchasing a pet online.

The study estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to online pet purchase scams, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars each to the thieves.

Puppy scammers often build websites using stolen pictures and content from legitimate breeders or other online sources and advertise pets for a lower price than the breed usually costs. They promise to send the adorable puppy after they receive payment, often through wire transfer. The fraudsters often continue to ask for more and more money, potentially for “shipping crates”, “vaccinations”, or “insurance”. The puppy seldom arrives.

A Vallejo woman reported a similar account to BBB Scam Tracker this January. She purchased two toy poodle puppies from a website and paid using Western Union. She was then told by the “shipping company” that she had to pay extra because her “puppies needed special crate and pet insurance as dictated by animal control.” Her puppies never arrived, and she lost $3,800.

Most scammers discovered in this study were found to be located in the West African country of Cameroon and were using sponsored links on search engines to target potential victims. In fact, the study found that at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an Internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale and using fabricated or stolen imagery and wording.

According to the BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report, online purchase scams were the riskiest scam to consumers in 2017. Pet purchases were one of the most common online purchase scams.

In 2017, consumers filed more than 200 complaints with BBB against dog breeders in the United States and Canada. Complaints sometimes involved purchasing sick dogs and then having difficulty in obtaining refunds or reimbursement for vet bills.

Prospective dog owners should avoid impulse purchases or adoptions. Take time to check out the pet, breeder, seller, or shelter at

If you feel you have been a victim of an online puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker at You can find more tips on purchasing a furry friend at

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting