Online Puppy Scams Nip Hopeful Pet Owners

Warmer temperatures often spur would-be pet owners to action. Many, looking for puppies, turn to the internet and type in the dog breed they’re looking for, starting their search for the right pet that way. Unfortunately, scammers know this and they’re lying in wait. Better Business Bureau® of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) has noted an uptick in both phony pet websites and people falling prey to fraudsters, leaving them out serious money and still without a pet.

“What online scammers prey on is the enthusiasm of pet lovers,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They create authentic-looking websites, steal photos from legitimate pet sellers or breeders and then simply wait for victims to come to them.”

In the last few months, BBB has received several reports from people who thought they had found the perfect pet online. After corresponding with the ‘pet sellers’ – exclusively by email – they wired anywhere from $700 to $1,200 to claim their pets. However, these payments did not secure their pups; instead, it led to claims by the sellers that the pets were being held at the airport and additional transport, vaccination or insurance fees were due before their pets could be delivered. At this point in the process, most people realize something is amiss and they’ve been defrauded.

When starting your search for the right pet, the first thing to know is that scammers are out there and they want your business. Rather than entering a type of breed into a search engine, be deliberate. If a pedigreed pet is important to you or if there is a certain breed you’re focused on, begin with a visit to the American Kennel Club’s website (, where you’ll find information on dog breeds, dog ownership, pet nutrition and general care.

From there, it’s a good idea to stay local or stick with established breeders, shelters or pet stores. Start your search by researching the track records of pet sellers at There are many reputable rescue agencies you can work with as well, with most focusing on a specific breed they champion and support. Buying a puppy through these organizations often helps them continue to extend their aid to other pets of that breed.

To avoid online pet scams, BBB offers the following advice:

  • Be deliberate; when you’re looking to buy a puppy, don’t just enter a type of breed into a search engine. Online scammers prey on people who look for pets this way.
  • Watch out for requests to wire money. This is virtually always a sign you’re dealing with a scammer. Never wire money to someone you haven’t met in person.
  • Beware of websites and online (or classified) ads with misspellings and/or grammatical errors. Many pet scams originate overseas, so scammers usually don’t have a good grasp of the English language. You should also be wary if the only form of communication with the seller is via email.
  • Don’t be fooled by a well-designed website. Scammers can and do steal images and details from postings off the websites of legitimate breeders. Always research companies for free at
  • Be leery of classified ads that promise cheap or free pets for adoption. These offers sound good, until the scammers tell you your pet is at the airport but you’ll have to pay unexpected fees to move forward with the adoption process. These fees continue to mount and people eventually realize these offers were not legitimate.
  • Avoid situations where you’re asked to wire funds to unknown third-parties for shipping or transportation. These are often fraudulent entities working in tandem with the supposed pet seller.

In Minnesota, commercial breeders need to be licensed. Finally, no matter who you purchase a puppy from, be sure you have a written contract with terms, conditions and guarantees spelled out. If something about the transaction isn’t feeling right, pay attention to that feeling.

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Contact BBB at or 651-699-1111, Toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.