Phantom Puppy scam

Avoiding Common Pet and Puppy Scams

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.

Phantom Puppy Scam Sinks to New Lows

I was pretty sure that it couldn’t get much lower than the phantom puppy scam – that’s the one where some seemingly broken hearted owner can no longer keep his dog (which just happens to be a purebred French Bulldog/English Bulldog/Teacup Yorkie/Popular Breed puppy), and wants to give it away for ‘free’ to a good owner.  All you are required to pay is the shipping cost, which is usually quoted as something ridiculously, like $400.

Unfortunately, that low shipping price rapidly escalates to well into the thousands of dollars, what with import taxes and quarantine fees and other miscellaneous charges – and in the end, there is no puppy. What there is, is a scammer – usually in Nigeria, Cote D’Azure, Cameroon, or some other African country, sometimes working with a partner here in North America, sometimes acting solely from overseas.

While that’s pretty low all on it’s own, much to my surprise, it CAN get lower. Let’s call this new twist the ‘phantom babies’ scam.

The ad was first published on in the free classified ad section.  The ad lists a price tag of $12 and was first posted on May 15.  It reads:

“Please, I need someone with best intentions to adopt/give my babies a good family, home/lifestyle. The babies are in excellent health conditions with good weights, encouraging medical reports and are very playful. I’m healthy except of being physically disabled, a Christian by faith, not a smoker and hates alcohol. I gave birth to this twin at the appropriate time given at the hospital. Sincerely, I love the babies extremely much; the decision to give them up hasn’t been that easy but its necessary, my intentions are base on get the babies nothing order than a very lovely home and family that I trust to be very determination to welcome, raise them with much love/ great concerned for their welfare, future etc that will be best for the babies. Please, I will be extremely happy to blessed any good person or couples with my babies only if he/or she stand with good intentions of offering the babies with best. I’m hopefully looking forward to read from you.”

Just as with the phantom puppy scam (where the ads for a Bulldog might show photos of a Boston), the scammers don’t pay very much attention to details. The photos in the ad show two healthy baby boys, at least two years old, if not older.

The other similarities are the grammatical errors in the writing, which are very similar to those commonly found in the phantom puppy ads. Both types of ads read like they’ve been written by fairly good ESL students. The other similarity is the claim of being a Christian – the puppy scam generally claims that the puppy is with a missionary in Africa, and insists on finding them a ‘good Christian home’.

There have been rumors about this new twist happening on a few of the scam forums I read, but this is the first newspaper coverage of it I’ve read.

If you think there were a lot of people desperate for cheap puppies, imagine how many people are going to get sucked in by *this* version.

Fun With French Bulldog Scammers – Part Two

| Read part one of ‘Fun with Scammers’ |

So, when last we left our Nigerian scammer, he was apologizing for having inadvertently trying to sell me the same puppies a second time. Since I am both kind and forgiving, I sent him the following reply —

Dearest James –

I am sorry if I seemed harsh in my last email. It wasn’t on purpose. I am just sad because the insurance company finally sent me the check for my husband’s horrible combine related fatality, and for my arms being all chopped up. Now I can finally bury him, and get myself some of them wooden arm prospectives. So now I have money galore, just oodles of it, but still no teeny tiny French Bully Dogs, and no man around the house to kill bugs and such.

Thank goodness I still have the baby Jesus and his mom.

Are you sometimes sad too, James? Do you miss your wife? I bet you killed a lot of bugs for her, just like a real man should. I still want to buy your little French Bully Dogs but are you not going to miss them and be sadder? Maybe you should keep them. I don’t want you to be lonely just like me.

Maybe I shouldn’t send you my bank information. I have to pray on this.

Yours in lonely love of God

James is nothing if not chivalrous, and he got back to me within 24 hours –

Hello dearest one

Please dont be sad, as I am said I am your friend and a good christan like you. Yes I am lonley and will miss my puppys but I know you will love them like me. SO dear one please send your bank information to me as you said I know god would want this. For he doesnt want you lonley. Also maybe I can be more a special friend to you and maybe even marry? If you would like that? I would need money to come there I am not ILLINOIS yet but still here doing god’s work where my wife died. So I would need you send me some money to bring myself and my puppys to you.

Please send me

Your name:————————
Your Address:———————-
Your Day phone#:——————–
Nearest Airport:———————-
I will then need banking informtations as well.

warmest love,


Oh, swoony swoon! Now James needs money to send himself to me, along with the puppies! He wants to be my bug killing, combine avoiding husband.

I smell true love, or at any rate, something strong and stinky..

Dearest Jamesy Love Bunny,

My heart is finally full. I am so happy! We can be together – you and me and the puppies too! I will have a HUSBAND and some teeny tiny French Bully Dogs! Oh, God and Baby Jesus really DO love me! I was starting to wonder. I have to admit – I had started looking into becoming a Buddhist or something, because God just wasn’t coming through.

But now – go God!

I have always had a dream of being a Missionary’s wife, ever since I saw the wonderful movie called End of the Spear (except I don’t want you to die). How about I come there? I can sell my house and bring me and all my suitcases full of money there. We can be happy together. I love you. Do you love me?

Love you and God!

Uh oh, looks like James is getting fed up with me. Poor guy just wants me to send him $400, and now he’s got some crazy woman wanting to move to Nigeria. What gives? ‘Just send me the money, dammit’, you can almost hear him thinking.

My dearest

I am need to know now if you are serious about my puppys. I am not staying here for my mission work as I am tell you I am coming Illionios now for my working. Are you even serois now are not??? I am thinking yuou are just playing with me and now soon after my wife has died. I can come there but needing you to send me as the information I am ask!! Please send on to me finally now or I know you are not serios ever again!!!

Please send me

Your name:————————
Your Address:———————-
Your Day phone#:——————–
Nearest Airport:———————-
I will then need banking informtations as well.

still warmest love your friend,


James, James. You get angry, and all your nice guy routine goes right out the window, buddy. Isn’t the first rule of scamming to know when to quit and walk away?


I think we are wrong for each other. I don’t think you are meant to be my bug killing husband hero after all. I have prayed on this and God has spoken to me and told me to go and endow a Buddhist monastery with my buckets full of money.

Unless you are willing to convert, and spend at least five years in a retreat with me, where we can contemplate life and the concept of karma, this just isn’t going to work out. An armless converted crazy Christian Buddhist and a Nigerian scammer just have too much going against them.

Whenever the winds cries in the trees, I’ll hear it speaking your name. It will sound like …”Puppy scammer, puppy scammer…”.

Adieu, my sweet.

Nothing since then, but I know James is still out there, trying to sell his phantom puppies, dreaming of the armless woman who could have been his wife.

I hope the thought of what he’s lost makes him sad…

Read Part One

Fun With French Bulldog Scammers – Part One

Like everyone else on the world wide interwebs, I’ve received my fair share of ‘Millionaire wants to give you his money’ and ‘Say, can I send you a $20,000 check for that $2,000 puppy?’ emails. I just mark them as spam, and delete them, since there’s not much payoff in playing with them, and answering them usually just gets your name and email address put on to a ‘try this gullible knucklehead’ list.

That said, few things piss me off more than phantom puppy scammers – those evil jerks who invent cheap puppies that they ‘must sell’ due to death in the family, or their ‘missionary’ work in Africa. Yes, I know that they prey on the cheap – but they also prey on the naive, and those who truly do want to do some good.

So, with time on my hands and a chip on my shoulder, I was in just the right mood when the following email came to my inbox –

Hello there

My name is mr James Blue i want to use this oppourtunity to inform you that i do have some bulldog 2 female and two male available for sale at the price of $400 and i want you to know that due to my new job i am very busy so i am looking for someone to buy them and who will take care of them as i always do,show them love and each of them cost $400 including shipping fee.They are AKC registered, Age 7-8 weeks old, they weighed 3-4lbs ,healthy and their shots are given up to date.All their papers will accompany them and will be shipped along with each of them. I am on a business trip right now because I just secured a new job here in ILLINOIS and i have to take the puppies along with me since my Wife died and i have moved out due to my new job and transfer to ILLINOIS and the puppies are here with me, so if you are still interested I can arrange for the shipping from here thought a shipping agent to Delivery to your nearest airport or home and they will be shipped along with all their

bath and toys,food sample,and dog kits. Also email me the follow details below for delivery purpose.

Your name:————————
Your Address:———————-
Your Day phone#:——————–
Nearest Airport:———————-
Await your response.

My first response –

WOW, this sounds super. Why not send me a photo of them? I’d really be interested. Are they black and tan ones? I love black and tan ones most of all, don’t you?

Gosh, so sorry about your wife. That’s terrible. Were they her dogs? How did she die? Do you live in Illinois? I love Illinois. I might move there, and then we can be friends! I will pray for you and for your dogs. Do you think we could be friends?

Your friend,


James apparently does want to be my friend. Yay for friends! And look, he sent me pictures.


Thanks for your interest in my puppies, i do have 2 female and 1 male French bulldog and i want to inform you that i have attach the pic of the available French bulldog for sale, due to my job i am very busy so i am looking for someone who will buy them and take care of them as i always do,show them love and each of them cost $400 including shipping fee.They are AKC registered, Age 7-8 weeks old, they weighed 1.5-1.8lbs, healthy and their shots are given up to date.All their papers will accompany them and will be shipped along with each of them. I am on a business trip right now because I just secured a new job here in Illinois and i have to take the puppies along with me since my Wife had died and i have moved out due to my new job and transfer to Illinois ,so if you are still interested I can arrange for the shipping from here via next day Delivery to your home and they will be shipped along with all their bath and a brand new crates, toys,food sample,and dog kits.

Also email me the follow details below for delivery purpose.

Your name:————————
Your Address:———————-
Your Day phone#:——————-
Nearest Airport:——————–

Await your response.

Here are the photos James attached to this email –

tan.jpg diamond.jpg tipsy.jpg

Do you get the impression James is not trying overly hard to fool me?

Either that, or he’s too stupid to realize that not even someone as dumb as I’m try ever so hard to seem could mistake that black masked fawn boy for a seven week old puppy.

And 1.8 pounds? At seven weeks? Jeez, if you’re trying to get a total stranger on the interwebs to send you some money, you’d think you could at least be bothered to do some basic research. If there’s anything I hate more than a scammer, it’s a lazy ass scammer.

At any rate, here’s my response –

Wow, those are really cute puppies. That Diamond sure is big for seven weeks! I guess the camera really does add a few pounds. About the other two – 1.8 pounds at seven weeks! How exciting! Are they those rare miniature French Bulldogs, the ones who stay tiny all the time? It would be super if they are! I would pay WAY more than $4oo for some super tiny ones.

But, I’m being rude here – how are you doing? It must be hard with your wife dead. I am praying for you and your cute dogs super hard. I want to be your friend. We could pray together! I lost my husband, too. He fell in our combine. I tried to pull him out, but the combine ate my arms. Sometimes I think baby Jesus has a hate on for me. But I keep praying!

I think you can be my new friend. I won’t ever let you near the combine, if you become my friend. Just in case.

Tell you what, I’ll come there and pick the dogs up. I think you said you’re in Illinois? I’ll be there next week! Is it OK if I bring you cash? Ever since I lost my arms in that combine accident it’s hard for me to fill out credit card forms. Or you could just bring them here and we could go to my bank together and get the money out. I trust you, because you are my friend. Maybe I should just send you my bank information.

Yours in the Lord!

Well, here’s where it gets interesting. James suddenly sends me another email, identical to his very first one. This time, he signs it ‘Eliot’.

I respond with –

Eliot! Why are you trying to sell James’s puppies? YOU MUST BE SOME SORT OF SCAMMER! James already said I can buy those puppies! I hate you and so does Baby Jesus you scammer! I am going to write to James and tell on you RIGHT NOW! I am not sending James any money until this is all straightened out!

God bless.

Haha! Poor James. It’s hard juggling all those multiple email accounts and names, and making sure you don’t try to double scam the same sucker (that would be me).

Conciliatory, he responds almost immediately with –

Hello my friend,

So sorry for this mistake which I am vry saddned by and want to let you know not to fear this is my brother is also trying to help with the selling of the puppiues for me. He made a mistake and ia am just to tell you not to be sad dear. I am still your friend and want very much for you to buy these puppie from me. Which includes crate papers toys bath etc in exchange for you to love them just like I am. I can send the puppie to you for $400 eah from ILLUIONOIS as soon as sending Western Unoin payment.

Also please still email me the follow details below for delivery purpose.

Your name:————————
Your Address:———————-
Your Day phone#:——————-
Nearest Airport:——————–

Await your response, your friend James.

Awww! He called me dear!

| Read Part Two of Fun With Scammers |