Puppy scamCOLUMBUS, Ohio – Several consumers have reported losing hundreds of dollars trying to buy a puppy online in recent weeks.

“Some ‘sellers’ who advertise online are con artists,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “They post a picture of a cute puppy and tell you to wire money for a crate or insurance. Then they take your money without delivering anything in return. People expect to receive a cute puppy, and instead they get nothing.”

In a typical puppy scam, a consumer finds an ad for a puppy online. The consumer communicates with the seller, agrees to buy the puppy, and wires a few hundred dollars to have the puppy delivered. After the consumer pays, the seller demands more money for seemingly legitimate costs, such as for a crate, shots, shipping insurance, or other transportation fees. Generally, consumers who pay receive nothing in return. In some cases, consumers receive a puppy but say the puppy was sick or did not come with the American Kennel Club registration the seller promised.

In addition to advertising puppies, con artists also may pretend to offer kittens, parrots, or other pets. Generally they communicate with the consumer via email, phone, or text, send pictures of the animal, and ask the consumer to pay using wire transfer or money order.

To avoid scams:

Research breeders and sellers carefully. Check complaints filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau, and review feedback from other customers. Be skeptical if you find no information; some scam artists change names regularly to trick consumers. If possible, work with a local, reputable organization.

Never purchase a pet sight-unseen over the internet, especially from an individual who requests an “adoption fee” or “shipping fee” via money order or wire transfer. To help detect a possible scam, conduct an online image search of the puppy’s photo to see where else the picture is posted on the internet. (Search “how to search by image” for help determining how to do this.) If the same picture shows up in multiple places, it could be part of a scam.

Visit the animal in person. Considering the number of veterinarian jobs currently available, getting ahold of an experienced professional for advice on pet adoption should not be too difficult. If you choose to purchase a puppy, visit the breeder in person. Ask many questions. Ensure the breeder has individual veterinary paperwork for the puppy on the letterhead of his or her veterinarian, and consider calling the veterinarian to verify the relationship. Obtain proof of purchase with the breeder’s full contact information on it. It may also be a good idea to get pet insurance. Consider adoption from a local animal shelter, where the entire family can meet and interact with an animal prior to adoption.
Watch for red flags. Beware of offers that are too good to be true, sellers who require payment via wire transfer or money order, requests for extra costs for airline pet insurance or a temperature-controlled crate, unexpected delivery problems requiring additional payment, or threats that you’ll be turned in for animal abuse or neglect if you don’t pay.

Report potential problems. If you suspect a scam, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. If you suspect animal cruelty, contact the seller’s local animal control agency or the humane society. The Humane Society of the United States has a puppy mill tip line at 1-877-MILL-TIP (1-877-645-5847).

Consumers can report potential scams by contacting the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioProtects.org.