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BBB: How to protect yourself from online pet sellers, avoid puppy scams

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50-day-old Golden Retriever puppies wait to go out for their training session at the Chilean police canine training school in Santiago, on October 09, 2018. - Two hundred dogs of different breeds, such as German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, Labrador, Golden Retriever and Swiss Shepherd, are trained at the training school located in the San Cristobal hill, a green lung in downtown Santiago. (Photo by Martin BERNETTI / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MIGUEL SANCHEZ (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE — If you are looking for a pet to add to your family, be on the lookout for scams. As more consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, more scams are popping up online. Experts say a shocking 80% of sponsored advertisements about pets may be fake.

BBB ScamTracker has 907 reports on this type of fraud and a Federal Trade Commission report found some 37,000 complaints involving pets. A vast majority of those were believed to be puppy sale scams. When you consider that FTC finds that less than 10 percent of victims of fraud actually complain, you can see that the problem is even larger than the numbers indicate.

BBB Serving Wisconsin has seen a rise in this type of scam in recent weeks, with several consumers reporting similar experiences: they find an irresistibly adorable pet for sale online and wire money to the seller, who is tasked with shipping the pet to them, but instead the seller pockets the cash and is never heard from again.

The BBB International Investigations Initiative conducted an extensive study of online puppy scams. The study looks at the scope of this problem, who is behind it, and the need for law enforcement consumer education to address the issue. You can read the full study here or download a PDF here.

The study also has tips for avoiding puppy scams:

  • Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
  • Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or Moneygram.
  • Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer.
  • The Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters. They also have tips for finding a reputable breeder.
  • Learn about fraud in your area at BBB Scam Tracker.

 What if you have been a victim of a puppy scam?

  • File a report with BBB’s Scam Tracker
  • Complain at
  • Complain to the Federal Trade CommissionCall 1-877-FTC-HELP
  • Homeland Security Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security also handles international fraud. Call 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada)
  • In Canada, call the Canadian Antifraud Centre: Toll-Free 1-888-495-8501
  • If you sent money through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak, contact those companies directly for information about the transactions. They also download their complaints into the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database, which police around the country can access.
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