Beware of ‘Puppy Scams’ this holiday season

Press Release
LA City Attorney’s Office

During the holiday seasons, people hustle and bustle looking for the perfect Christmas gift for their families. Many families choose to buy pets, especially cute, cuddly puppies. Finding the right puppy is no easy task these days. The internet has become a highly popular place to purchase almost anything. Thus, making it easier to purchase what you need.

Therefore, people flock to the internet to find the best deals on puppies by searching Craigslist, Facebook, breeders, and adoption places. In a press release, City Attorney Mike Feuer warns would-be dog dads and dog moms about online puppy-selling scams, which are run by criminal organizations and have increased substantially in recent months. “The cuddly pictures will steal your heart, but the criminals behind these puppy scams will steal your money, sometimes into the thousands,” said Feuer. “Most victims who are swindled never get a puppy at all, others get different dogs with health or genetic problems, and the majority of victims are too embarrassed to come forward. Puppy scams are one more reason to adopt and not shop.”

Puppy selling scams are simple. The scammer purports to offer dogs for sale via a custom website and ads on Facebook, Craigslist and other platforms. They interact with victims by email, text or over the phone to convince them they have a pet to sell. Once the victim is emotionally invested, they are easier to scam. After the victim pays for the puppy, the scammer creates a website they claim the consumer can use to track the pet’s delivery. The victim is given a bogus tracking number too, which continues to make the scam seem legitimate. But, a day later, the victim typically receives an email saying delivery has been delayed, and that the victim is now on the hook for any number of new fees – delivery fees, cage fees, vaccinations, as well as other charges. The scammers’ delivery website is updated with this information too, which, again, continues to give the impression that the sale is legitimate. If the victim pays the fees, the scammers often demand additional fees, until the victim either can no longer afford to pay or realizes they’ve been taken. By this time, the loss to the victim could be in the thousands. Once the victim stops paying, the scammers sometimes threaten them with “animal abandonment.” Some will go so far as to create an additional website replicating one from law enforcement to frighten the victim and they will continue to email, text, and phone the victim to try to get them to pay more money.

Nationwide, the City Attorney’s Office has identified approximately 4,500 complaints about puppy scams and almost 400 in California. According to a report by the BBB, experts believe at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. These scams are common for cats, horses, and birds, as well.
These are the red flags to watch for to avoid being puppy-scammed:

  • The asking price is far below the normal rate for that breed.
  • The seller won’t let you meet the puppy in person or see him on a video call.
  • The seller insists on shipping the pup and won’t let you pick him up in person.
  • The seller requires payment by money transfer, such as Western Union, prepaid debit cards or via Zelle, an app that consumers have reported has been unwilling to refund fees for fraudulent transactions with puppy scammers.
  • Pictures of the puppy or the text of the ad can be found on other sites – use Google image search to check for other sites that have the same image of the pet that is being offered.