I was recently emailed by someone in Brazil, asking me if the photos they had seen in an online ad were actually of my puppies. They were – and no, I am not selling Finn and Madge in Brazil. Instead, this is just another appearance of the phantom puppy scam. This seemed like as a good a time as ever to review some of the most common scams that victimize both sellers and buyers alike.
With most of these scams, the best prevention is plain old common sense. Any time you’re offered money for nothing, or an expensive puppy for ‘free’, your alarm bells should go off.
Prevention is essential, because in the Bank Draft Scam and ‘Big Check’ Scam, there’s almost zero chance that the authorities, the police, or anyone else is going to be able to get your money back, or bring these scammers to justice.
Bait and switch puppy scam
The con: In this scam, there actually is a puppy – it’s just not the one you saw the photos of. Instead of the shiny coated, clear eyed, conformationally correct pup you saw pictures of, you end up with a sickly, undersized puppy of a completely different color. Gina De’Lynn Price was great at this – numerous customers complained about getting a runty, sick Bulldog who appeared under aged, instead of the happy, healthy Bulldog puppy they saw photos of.
In some cases, this scam involves photos stolen from the websites of other, more legitimate breeders. We’ve personally seen photos of Tessa, Rebel, Sailor, Hammer, Solo and numerous others of our dogs show up on Puppy Find and similar websites, all being touted by scammers as the dogs they have for sale.
Commonly found: Anyplace on the net where people advertise puppies for sale
Avoiding this scam: Insist on frequent, numerous photos. If you’re skeptical, ask the breeder to hold up a sign in front of the puppy with a copy of that day’s newspaper. Better still, pick up your puppy in person.
Phantom Puppy Wire Transfer scam
The con: There’s no puppy at all here – just a lot of heart tuggingly sad stories, and a price that seems to good to be true (because it is).
In this scam, the perpetrator tells a sad story of having to place his Bulldog puppies because he has: lost his job; lost his wife; gone to Africa to be a missionary; been transferred for his job; placing them for a dead relative. There are as many reasons as there are scams, but the basic key is always that the puppies are ‘free’ – you’re just required to pay the shipping costs, which are a nominal amount, usually under $400.
Here’s the email that a scammer just attempted to post to my French Bulldog mailing list:
I am looking to rehome a litter of adorable bulldog puppies and parents they belong to my late grand mother who I was really close to and she passed away unexpectedly
mom and dad of these puppies both have wonderful temperament they are good with kids and other animals and the puppies are so cute and full of energy and mischief to no end somedays
They come with complete shots and worming up to date. They do the funniest things. You just can’t get enough of their playful antic. And they are growing so fast.
contact me immediately if you are interested in them.
Once you show signs of interest, the con artist will tell you that the puppies are someplace exotic, usually Nigeria (which is where this scam tends to originate from). You’ll be asked to wire the money by Western Union, at which time the con artist will do one of two things: disappear altogether, never to be heard from again; or ask for more money, to cover ‘shipping costs’, or ‘government fees’ or veterinary care for the suddenly sick puppy. Some victims report that, when they’ve balked at paying the additional charges requested, they’ve received ‘threatening emails’ promising that they’ll be charged for animal abandonment if they don’t arrange for the puppy’s shipping (ie; cough up more money).
This scam usually involves Bulldogs and French Bulldogs, for the simple reason that a $200 price tag for a $2,000 puppy can make people set aside their skepticism in search of a bargain.
Commonly found: Free on line ad sites, or sites that allow people to place free ‘trial ads’, direct emails to your inbox, newsgroups, on line discussion groups, forums.
Avoiding this scam: Never, ever wire money to pay for a puppy. Never ‘buy’ a puppy that you’ve been told is in Nigeria or any other African country. Never respond to out of the blue emails asking for your ‘help’ in ‘rescuing’ a purebred puppy for a low fee to cover shipping. Never forget to apply logic to ads like these – why would anyone ‘give away’ a puppy they could easily sell? And, if you do get scammed, don’t expect anyone to help you. There are almost no cases of scammers being brought to justice for running these schemes.
Big Bank Draft Puppy Purchase Scam
The con: In this case, dog breeders are the victims. The con artist contacts breeders about their puppies for sale, and says he’d like to purchase one. Usually, they refer to themselves as either ‘international business men’, or in some reported cases have claimed to be Saudi royalty.
The scammer, after a few emails wherein he states his serious interest in purchasing a dog, mentions that he has an bank draft for a large sum, given to him by one of his customers. He’d like to give you the entire draft, and asks that you refund him the balance, after deducting the cost of the puppy and his transportation fees. Of course, he’s also willing to offer you a generous processing fee for doing him this one small favor…
If you agree, the scammer will send you a realistic looking bank draft, usually drawn on Western Union. He then instructs you to deposit the draft immediately, and send him a check for the difference by courier.
The draft, needless to say, is a fake. If your bank wasn’t alert enough to catch the fraud when you deposited it, rest assured they’ll do so within a few days, at which time you’ll be out everything – the amount you refunded, the handling costs, the bank fees, and in some cases, the price of the puppy you shipped. In one or two memorable cases, victims unable to repay the funds faced criminal charges.
Commonly Found: Almost any on line ads for fairly high priced goods for sale can be the target of this scam. Sellers of horses, cars, electronics or other high ticket items have all been victimized by this scam. There are now reports of B&B operators, tour guides and other being targeted. If you’re advertising goods or services on line, chances are good you’re eventually going to hear from these con artists.
Avoiding this scam: Use common sense! Why would you cash a check for thousands of dollars given to you by a total stranger? Never take a bank draft, or any other payment, for more than the price of the goods you’re selling. Remember, if you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a payment you’ve received, take it to your bank or financial institution, explain the situation, and ask them to verify it before you complete your transaction. Better still, stick to cash.
The Lost Pet Scam
The con: In this, the most heartless pet scam we’ve encountered, the victims are grieving pet owners searching for their lost pets.
The Los Angeles Times explains the scam in detail:
The pitch: “I found your lost dog!”
The scam: A phone call from someone who reports finding a beloved pooch is usually cause for celebration. But Western Union warns that it could be a cruel scam. The company has received reports from owners of lost dogs who say they’ve been called by people identifying themselves as truckers. The dog, a supposed trucker says, was found along a highway.
How it works: The driver says there was no time to get the dog home because of a tight delivery schedule. Now the truck is across the country, but the trucker offers to put the dog on a flight. All you have to do is wire money for the fare. Or sometimes the trucker will also say the dog was injured, and request additional money to cover vet bills.
The outcome: You show up at the airport to meet the flight, but your dog doesn’t arrive. The con artist had gotten your number off a “lost dog” poster or advertisement and never had the pet at all. The nearly surefire way to tell this was a scam was that the money had to be wired — that makes it easy for the fraudster to pick it up and hard for you to trace it.
Advice: Western Union suggests that anyone who is phoned long distance by a person claiming to have found a lost pet ask questions about the animal that are outside the scope of what was on a poster or in an ad. In any case, always be wary if a stranger requests funds be sent by wire.
The “Adopt or Rescue a French Bulldog or English Bulldog” Scam
The con: This one is slick, and preys on our tendencies as loving dog owners to want to help out dogs in need. The con men set themselves up as a ‘rescue’, claiming to have dogs that they’ve liberated from puppy mills. The trick here is the price – $3,000 and up, in some cases, to ‘adopt’ a dog from a rescue. What you’re actually doing, of course, isn’t ‘rescuing‘ or ‘adopting‘ – it’s buying. You’ve bought a dog from a puppy mill, for a typical high ticket price, and no health guarantee (after all, you didn’t buy that dog, you adopted it, and caveat adopter). The profits go right back into the mill’s pockets, and allow them to pump out more sub standard puppies.
Commonly found: All over the web. YouTube is littered with videos for places that claim to help ‘rescue’ Bulldogs and Frenchies from Thai puppy mills, or Dog Farms in Ireland, or midwest commercial kennels. A search on ‘rescue a French Bulldog’ will bring up blogs and websites, all touting high priced puppies in need of “adoption”. I’ve also received several direct mails from groups claiming to be “Rescues” or “Sanctuaries”, in one memorable case soliciting donations for a ‘Sactuary for the homeless French Bulldogs of Thailand’. The idea of packs of homeless, feral French Bulldogs roaming the streets of Thailand would be funny, if this wasn’t such a cruel scam.
Avoiding this scam: Learn to differentiate between a real rescue group, and a company selling puppies. A legitimate rescue will be well organized, well established, and often times a registered charity. There will hardly ever be cute young puppies available, since there’s no lack of homes waiting for adorable puppies. Most rescue dogs are older, with many in need of veterinary care. As with the other scams, use common sense!
Why does this group always have a never ending flow of young puppies? Where are the needy adults and older dogs commonly placed through rescue? Are they a recognized charity? Will their national breed club vouch for their legitimacy? If they can’t answer all of these questions to your satisfaction, just say no thanks. Give your money to a rescue group that will actually use it help dogs, instead of using it to breed more of them.
The Little Bit of Both Scam – “Shelter” needs donations, and has too many adorable puppies..
The con: This one is a sort of hybrid, offering a bit of all of the above scams all mixed together. The emails generally claim to be from someone running a ‘shelter’ or ‘sanctuary’. They are in desperate need of donations, because they just have too many cute (pure bred) puppies to care for. Of course, if you’d prefer, you can also choose to adopt one of their puppies.
Over on the Poodle and Dog Blog, Jan details an email she just received from a ‘shelter’ that’s just over run with adorable teacup “Yorkes” (sic), French Bulldogs and Bulldogs (unlike the average shelter, which is over run with adolescent male dogs of indeterminate ancestry). Of course they’re available for ‘adoption’, or they’d settle for just your donation.
The scam works on two levels – they’ll take your donations, of course, but what they’d really prefer is to get you to reveal your bank account donation, so that you can set up regularly scheduled donations. This lets them use your banking information for identity theft, check fraud, or, in some cases, to clear out your account altogether.
If you indicate you’d like to adopt one of their puppies, this segues into the phantom puppy scam – you’ll be asked to wire money to cover shipping costs, and generally veterinary expenses. This can add up to thousands of dollars, and all for puppies that do not even exist.
Commonly found: So far, I’ve seen this sent out as a direct e-mail campaign. Apparently, they’ve also placed on line classified ads on free sites.
Avoiding this scam: As with all the other scams, use common sense. Why on earth would a shelter be over run with pure bred, expensive, highly desirable puppies? Answer: they wouldn’t, of course.
Never donate money to any shelter or sanctuary that you can’t verify actually exists. If they don’t have a physical address you can visit locally, or are registered as a charity, don’t give them your money. As with all phantom puppy scams, never wire money for a dog. Always pick puppies up in person, and don’t pay until you have done so.