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Beware of Scams and Pet Fraud When Buying Dogs

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Looking to get a new puppy?  In addition to researching how a new puppy will change your life and making sure that you're ready for the commitment, prospective puppy buyers have  something new to consider.  From mutts to poodles, all puppies are being targeted in puppy scams.  Pet fraud has taken on a new form as the Internet has created endless opportunities for enterprising individuals -- both legitimate and criminal. In a fairly new twist on an old con game, Web-based fraudsters have put a puppy's face on an old scam. Puppy scams take various forms and have extended the "buyer beware'' adage to law-abiding sellers.

On the buyer side, puppy scams often involve e-mail and online or hard copy ads touting:

  • Missionary with puppy in need of rescue. While the circumstances change, the bottom line is that, for an unbelievably low price, the buyer can rescue a beloved pet from a dangerous situation.
  • Purebred puppies at an incredible price! Rather than tugging at a buyer's heartstrings, this one targets those watching their purse strings.
  • You want it, we've got it. This caters to the impatient perfectionist. "Want the perfect pup right now, but can't find him close to home? No problem. Pick from our incredible selection, send us a check, and we'll ship within 24 hours.''

Typically, puppy scams require the buyer to wire payment. Once sent, the money can't be recovered even if you never get the puppy -- or receive a different or sickly pup. Reduce your likelihood of falling victim to a puppy scam by taking heed of the old saying: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Other tips to avoid the financial and emotional roller coaster of pet fraud:

  • Research the breeder. Ask for, and contact, their references.
  • Never wire payment. Instead, consider using Paypal or an escrow service.
  • Use the Internet to find reputable breeders, but shop locally. Meet your prospective puppy before buying.

Legitimate breeders targeted

One version of the puppy scam involves overpayment for a pet with a counterfeit check. The "buyer'' requests that the breeder return the extra money via a wire transfer. If the breeder complies and has already shipped the puppy, he or she will be out both the money and the dog. And breeders, if you must accept a large check, ask your bank when it will clear before making any refunds.

Sellers with their own Web sites are encountering yet another form of pet fraud. Photos of their pups are being copied and added to fraudulent "breeder'' sites. Buyers should request photos containing a specific item as "proof-of-life'' to make sure that what they've seen is what they'll get.

Alison Preszler, with the U.S. Better Business Bureau, recommends searching local Better Business Bureau "reliability reports'' for complaints against unscrupulous breeders. Preszler said, "Eighty to 90 percent of the puppy scam complaints received were of the foreign missionary variety.''

Daisy Okas, of the American Kennel Club (AKC), confirmed that many complaints the AKC receives involve international puppy scams. The borderless nature of Internet fraud makes prosecution difficult.

If you believe you've been the victim of a puppy scam, report it to your local authorities. Reporting incidents to the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Better Business Bureau, as well, helps these organizations identify repeat offenders.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D
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