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The Internet has become a popular place for people to find their next pet, especially if they’re looking for puppies. A quick search for “puppies” will bring up hundreds of websites that lure people in with photographs of tiny puppies posed in front of playful backgrounds or sitting in baskets adorned with flowers. The puppies look healthy and the website is well-designed, but looks can be deceiving.
Anyone can paint a happy picture with stock images or photos stolen from other websites. Testimonials from satisfied “customers” are used to make a site look legitimate, and compelling stories about how the dogs are loved and responsibly bred lead people to think they’re making the right choice. But what lies behind many of these pet sale sites is a world of deception, with the animals — and in many cases, the people — paying the ultimate price.
According to a recent study published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), “experts believe at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links that appear in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.” That’s quite the staggering statistic, so how exactly do these scams work?
Potential customers visit what appears to be a legitimate site, pick a puppy based on a photo, then wire money to an account as payment. Shipping charges are also added and additional funds are sometimes requested due to “airport delays.” But the puppy never arrives, and people are out anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Puppies of all breeds are advertised, but it’s said that scammers often focus on popular or rare breeds to attract more customers.
The scams have become so prevalent that websites like PetScams.com have been launched to alert people about fraudulent websites. In a six-week period alone, they found over 300 fake sites, according to the BBB study. Anyone can become victim to scammers with fake websites and ad listings, but they aren’t the only ones you need to worry about.
Online Puppy Brokers Conceal the Truth
Puppy broker websites are another misleading method of purchasing a pet. Broker sites offer breeders a place to advertise puppies for sale, then people simply have to place the desired puppy in their “cart,” pay with a credit card, and wait for their puppy to be shipped. Though these sites typically have actual puppies for sale, the issue is that they’re nothing more than a virtual storefront for puppy mills.
One of these sites, PuppyFind.com, made headlines when it was exposed that they were removing negative reviews from their website. Because of their deception, people unknowingly purchased puppies from a breeder that not only had 47 counts of animal cruelty against them but had been featured on the “Horrible Hundred” report published by the Humane Society of the United States. Sadly, the deception doesn’t stop there. While some people are taking advantage of hopeful puppy parents, other scammers are pulling at heartstrings in a different way.
Fake Pleas for Dogs Needing a New Home
The plea of a desperate pet parent is hard to resist, but fake ads on sites like Craigslist have also become more prevalent. These scams involve posting a photo of a pet that they “urgently need to rehome,” asking for a small adoption fee to make sure the pet is going to a good home. They ask for the adoption fee to be wired or mailed in advance, then arrange to ship the pet to you or meet you somewhere for the exchange. The pet never arrives or you end up waiting in a parking lot for someone who’s never going to show up.
It’s important to know that someone asking for an adoption fee doesn’t exactly indicate a scam — in fact, it’s highly recommended that pets are never advertised as “free to good home” because it can result in the pet being placed in the hands of an abusive person. But if someone refuses to proceed with the adoption unless you send them money first, consider that a red flag.
How to Choose Your Next Pet the Responsible Way
When you purchase a pet online, you open yourself up to the possibility of becoming the victim of a scam, or you might be supporting a puppy or kitten mill. Reputable breeders (although we don’t Support purchasing dogs over adopting) don’t sell puppies sight unseen through brokerage sites or allow you to simply wire money and have a pet shipped to you. And people who are legitimately trying to find a new home for their pet won’t ask for money upfront before you have the opportunity to meet them.
A reputable shelter or animal rescue is always the best choice, and with a bit of searching, you can find the exact pet you’re looking for. You’ll help save a life and know you’re getting a pet that’s the right fit for you and your family.
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