Consumer Wise: Beware of online puppy scams

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 06, 2018, 1:17 PM EST

Lucas Boryla and his fiancé were looking to get a puppy last year and turned to the internet as they started their search.  At first, they had their hearts set on a Corgi and came across a website called that had adorable pictures of Corgi pups.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the one we want.’ You just kind of put these blinders on. I want this one. I want it now. I’m a go,” explained Boryla.

Even better, the prices were great. They were asking $500 for a Corgi pup, about half of what you normally have to pay for one in Florida. The sellers were eager to make a deal.

“If you buy two, we’ll take $100 off for shipping. So you’ll get two dogs for a discounted price of $900,” Boryla remembered them pushing.

Red Flags

Deeply discounted prices for a breed are a major tip-off to a potential scam.  At first, Boryla didn’t think anything of it, but as he emailed back and forth with the sellers, more red flags began to emerge.

He noticed grammatical errors in the emails he received back from them, and then, he couldn’t get them to send proof of the puppy — other than that one picture on the website.

“I was like ‘Can you send me a video? Can we Skype? Or even talk to me on the phone?’ They insisted we talk through email, and they completely ignored my requests for proof that the puppy existed.”

 Luckily, that was enough to make Boryla take a step back and do some research about buying puppies online.  He quickly realized he almost got scammed.

“I went down the check list and I’m like, ‘Aaaaah, that happened to me. That happened to me. That happened to me.”

Growing Complaints

The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission get thousands of complaints about online puppy scams, as more people turn to the internet to find new pets.  They estimate some 80 percent of sponsored ads about puppies for sale are fake.

“Consumers have to be aware and be careful whenever they’re searching for puppies online,” explained Better Business Bureau Public Relations Director Bryan Oglesby.

The BBB recently released a study about the problem and tips on how to protect yourself.  One red-flag is seeing only one or two pictures of the same puppy throughout a website.  Another tip-off is poor grammar or spelling in the advertisement or email from the seller.

“We found a lot of these scams originate overseas, in Cameroon, West Africa, so English is their second language,” Oglesby said.

The fake online pet sellers prey on your love of animals, and once they think they have you hooked, try to squeeze you for more and more money.

“We’ve had someone give over $16,000 to a scam artist for various things—saying the puppy was sick, they had to send money for pet transportation, and they keep the consumer connected through that emotional connection,” Oglesby explained.

Protect yourself

Here are some important tips to protect yourself:

  • Never buy a pet without seeing it first, in person
  • Never pay a stranger by wiring money or with a money order
  • Always use a credit card—so you can dispute the charges

Research prices for the breed you’re interested in adopting.  If a pure-bred dog is being advertised at a deeply discounted price, chances are higher that it’s fraud.

The website is also a good website to check out.  It catalogs pet-selling websites which have been flagged as fakes.

And don’t forget, when you’re looking for a new pet for your family, local shelters have wonderful, loving animals, too. The Shelter Project can help you find a shelter near you.  And if you’re looking for a specific breed, the Humane Society has a checklist to help you find a responsible breeder.

Scam Avoided

Boryla was lucky that he sensed something was wrong and cut off communications with the Corgi website but says he came too close to getting scammed for comfort.

“I was just angry, because I had gone through this emotional rush. I was like this is what I’m gonna get, such a great deal! It’s so exciting, and then it just all came crashing down, like I was this close to falling in the hole.”

After their bad online experience, Boryla and his fiancé decided to go to a local breeder.  It worked out great.  A friendly, seven-month old, high energy Woodle named Ben is now part of their family.

“He’s been fantastic! He’s a really smart dog. He loves people and he’s a very loyal companion,” he said smiling and scratching Ben’s ears.

Lucas Boryla and his recently adopted Woodle, Ben. (Angi Moreschi, staff)