Commentary: Don’t fall into the paws of puppy scammers

By Sheron Patrick
For The Cordova Times

Who let the dogs out? It’s a question you may not have asked yourself this pandemic, but with animal shelters around the nation reporting empty kennels, the question begs answering. It turns out that your neighbor, your stuck-at-home hairdresser, and nearly everyone on social media let the dogs out, by adopting them.

When people are spending more time than ever at home, everyone and their dog wants a dog. What a wonderful thing to see those doors swing wide open, revealing empty kennels. The thought of dogs and cats finding their forever homes is a bright spot in these trying times.

But, for every bright spot, it seems some nefarious con artist is intent on stealing that joy, and your money. Puppy purchasing is no different. At Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific, we have received more than nine reports of puppy scams in the last year. And we know that number is just a fraction of the whole picture — scams of all kinds are underreported for several reasons, including the victims feeling embarrassed to admit that they fell for a con. In Alaska, puppy cons are costing consumers. The median dollar loss in a puppy scam in the Last Frontier State is $1,841.44. During already tough financial times, no one can afford to lose money.

So here are a few red flags to look out for when purchasing a puppy. Beware the “extra fees.” You find your dream dog online, put down a deposit, and eagerly await the moment you’ll meet your dog. But when the “seller” gets to the airport, they’ll begin tacking on extra charges — an expensive crate, insurance for the dog to fly, airline fees — eventually victims realize there is no puppy and they’re out a significant chunk of change.

In normal times, BBB recommends never buying a puppy or pet without seeing it in person first. But these aren’t normal times. So even though you can’t visit your puppy in person, or it may really need to be sent to you, try to Facetime or Skype with the breeder to see your puppy before paying. Also, be wary of a seller requesting an alternate form of payment, such as a gift card, or mobile banking option that was not part of the original transaction. These are red flags that the dealer is not legitimate, and they probably do not have the pet they are attempting to sell.


BBB previously conducted a study reviewing the scope of this problem, who is behind it, and the need for law enforcement consumer education to address the issue. Head to to check out that study.

If you are shopping online for a pet during these trying times, watch out for scams. Complaints continue to pour into Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker as fake pet and puppy scams are on the increase.

Scammers know that few things pull at a person’s heartstrings like an adorable puppy. And as consumers turn to the internet to find new pets, they will be met with a slew of heart-tugging ads. A BBB study found that many of the ads are scams, and anyone looking online for a pet is extremely likely to encounter one.

How to avoid puppy scams:

  • Do not buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that is not possible, conduct an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, it may be a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials, to see if the seller copied it from another site.
  • Avoid wiring money, if possible. 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.
  • Consider reaching out to your local animal shelter. While some may be empty or short supplied, The Humane Society of the United States can refer you to a local shelter where you can at least put in an application for when a dog or cat does come in and needs adopting.

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

  • File a report a
  • Complain and learn more at
  • Complain to the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or visiting

Sheron Patrick is the Communications Manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest + Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in Anchorage and he and his team write articles and alerts on tips to help keep Alaskan consumers safe.