Adopting a Puppy or Kitten Online? You're a Scam Target

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An Australian Shepherd puppy lays on a dirt path strewn with leaves outdoors and looks curiously at the camera.
Purple Collar Pet Photography

If you're ready to adopt a kitten or a puppy from online listings, you have a target on your back, the National Consumers League warned on Wednesday.

The group's consumer complaint site has seen a sharp rise in pet adoption scams this year. Those who have been taken lose money and are heartbroken that the pet they thought they were adopting isn't real.

Here's how it works: You go online in search of your ideal canine or feline family member. After responding to the ad and expressing interest, the person on the other end will take the payment for the listed puppy or kitten. It goes downhill quickly from there.

The next step, according to, is the demand for additional money. Often, the requests seem plausible, like to pay for a special ventilated shipping crate or insurance. Each time you send more money, there will be another reason for the seller to ask for still more. "This continues until the victim, now often out hundreds or thousands of dollars catches on and stops sending money," according to group.

It eventually becomes clear there is no real animal available for sale. Often, the photos used to lure victims were lifted from another site.

The group provided this example from a complaint filed by a Massachusetts woman:

A Sad Story

"I was looking to purchase a Yorkshire terrier puppy for my 2 little kids. I found one that I was really interested in. It was a 9-week-old female Yorkie. I emailed 'the owner.' ... The puppy was $500, and he told me that was already included with shipping and everything. He told me to put the $500 on a Reloadit card, which I did, and I gave him that. He sent me an email of a flight ticket, which I now know that it was not real because I called American Airlines and the flight ticket was a fake.

"An agency started emailing me stating that I had to send them $970 for a 'crate' for the puppy to arrive to me safe while on flight due to the weather. I was told it was refundable when my puppy would arrive. I was told to send it by Western Union, which I did. Once that happened ... I was asked to send $1,500 now for the pet's insurance to get sent to me, which was also supposed to be refunded to me. I sent that money through MoneyGram. I was supposed to receive my puppy on March 7, 2015 in the morning, and I never received the puppy.

"Then I received another email stating I had to send ANOTHER payment of $760 to update her shots before she takes off. It was already sounding a little bit too good to be true to me, but that's when I finally realized that this was a scam."

Additional examples can be found on the ASPCA's Pet-Related Scams website.

Don't Get Taken

Here are some tips from to help you avoid becoming a victim:

  • Don't pay money for a pet you haven't seen in person.
  • Get your animal locally. Be very cautious if you're dealing someone out of town.
  • Visit a local shelter or breed rescue group to see if they have the type of animal you're interested in.
  • If you do decide to deal with an out-of-town seller, do your homework. Don't send any money until you've verified they are who they claim to be and have an established track record.
  • Beware of free pet offers. That is often how victims get drawn in to these scams.
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