You’ve heard of identity theft. You guard your social security number, your driver’s license information, your credit cards—but would you be surprised to find out that puppy scammers are stealing your dog identity too?
Puppy scams have been a problem on the Internet for some time, but the scammers are becoming more sophisticated. First, let’s talk about the typical online puppy scam.
A puppy seeker decides to look for a puppy. Gone are the days when they simply looked in the classified section of the newspaper. Craigslist has a few ads for commonly found breeds such as Pitbulls, French Bulldogs, Chihuahuas, and Labs, as well as for mixed puppies. Many locations have banned the sale of puppies in pet shops. The puppy seeker wants a specific breed of dog and doesn’t know where to look for it, so they go to their favorite research location—Google.
The buyer types the name of the breed they are looking for into the Internet search engine and a plethora of glitzy websites pop up. The buyer begins to click on the various links. The sites have pretty puppies. They have pictures of the parents. The site says they have the proper shots. They promise “family raised” and “registered.” The puppy searcher sends an email through the site to the breeder. The pet scammer asks for a deposit and promises a delivery date. The breeder might send some cute puppy photos, but the buyer never gets to actually see the live puppy.
As the date draws close for delivery or pick up of the puppy, the “breeder” asks that the remainder of the money to be sent to PayPal. They may ask for gift cards or ask for payment through untraceable cash apps such as Zelle, Google Pay, Cash App, Venmo, and Apple Pay. Once the buyer has sent money, the seller often tells them there is additional paperwork and delivery requirements that will need additional money. The scammer might say that the shipper or airline is requiring a special crate, shipping insurance, another vet visit or shots, etc. Sometimes, they even set up additional email accounts, websites, etc., to look like an airline or shipping company.
Generally, the puppy buyer is out thousands of dollars by the time they realize there’s no puppy and the seller is a fraud. The Better Business Bureau statistics for 2021 show 3,328 reports of online puppy scams.
You, as a real breeder, are probably wondering how this affects you. These scams have been increasing and now the criminals are stealing your photos, your kennel names, and in some cases, even your websites to camouflage their schemes and look legitimate to the prospective puppy buyers.
The chicanery is no longer restricted to finding them through web search engines. The scammers have determined how to find the folks looking for puppies, sometimes even before the puppy seeker hits “search” on Google.
In their current schemes, the puppy scammer makes a false identity on Facebook by setting up a page and then joining Facebook breed groups. These groups are generally made up of mostly pet people, who love or own that breed, and some breed fanciers. Often, a person wanting a puppy of a specific breed will join various Facebook groups for that breed. When they post that they are looking for a puppy, they receive a private message through Facebook’s Messenger that another group member just happens to have puppies available. The scammer will send photos privately, and the dance begins. As of late, the scammers are so bold that they often just paste their website link into the comment sections, even in groups that don’t allow puppy sales. As it’s just a web address link, it doesn’t trigger the group admins into action—and unsuspecting people are drawn into the trap.
The scammers are bold. In a group that I frequent, they recently posted that they had puppies for sale by copying and pasting text, and adding Toy Fox puppy pictures. However, they forgot to change the wording. So, in the paragraph, it stated that the puppies all have the “true Boston Terrier colors.” They do this scam on Facebook across many breeds, to catch as many unsuspecting puppy buyers
This is where the theft of your identity lies. The information on the Facebook pages, puppy pictures, and kennel names are quite possibly yours. In a recent example, the scammer’s Facebook page profile had my bitch Sparkles’ photo. The website was copied completely from one of our national club member’s sites, with just the “Contact Us” information changed as well as a few photos swapped out. The kennel and website name used was another kennel from overseas, with the domain name extension changed. They didn’t even change the breeder’s name in the “About Us” they had stolen from the legitimate website.
To the puppy buyer, it looks completely legitimate. You are ignorant to the fact that someone is using your kennel information (and maybe even your name) to steal someone’s money by selling them a non-existent puppy.
So how do we fight this fraud? First, we need to market our breed clubs to the public, and direct people to our puppy referrals and breeders’ listings. When contacted by a potential puppy buyer, don’t ignore it just because you don’t have puppies or because they are all spoken for. Re-direct them to legitimate sources. If you are on Facebook or other social media and you see suspicious identities, Facebook pages, comments or websites, investigate them and report them to the group and page administrators. Advise people when they state that they are looking for a puppy that if they get a private message, they should verify with a breeder or kennel club that the person is legitimate. We need to educate the people we interact with on social media about the dangers of puppy scams. If you are in a breed group, you might need to give the warning frequently. I post warnings on our breed and kennel clubs’ public Facebook pages, as well as in groups and on my personal page frequently.
Finally, if your information has been stolen (photos, website, pedigrees or anything they can use to illegally sell invisible puppies), let everyone in the group know and tag the administrator so that the admin can block them. If your website is copied and used as a counterfeit site, use a resource such as https://lookup.icann.org/ to tell you who the host domain is for the replicated illegitimate website. Once you find that domain, send an email with the information to: abuse@ that domain name. Also, send the information to: https://petscams.com/report-pet-scam-websites/. They only investigate website domains. Additionally, report the scam to: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/. And finally, report it to the FBI, as they investigate and track cyber scams at https://www.ic3.gov/. You can report it to Facebook if they posted there or if they’ve misappropriated your photos from your pages. However, so far, Facebook just keeps sending us messages that they haven’t violated any “community standards.”
I’ve announced several times in my groups that we’ve reported the potential scams to the FBI, and some new members immediately disappear from the group.
The scammers are getting more sophisticated and becoming better at camouflaging themselves, and pretending to be you.
Work with your social media groups and your breed clubs to be pro-active and warn people of the dangers. Look out for each other’s information and report anything that looks suspicious. If you have a web presence on the Internet, do some general searches occasionally just to ensure that your information hasn’t been stolen and is being used to sell invisible puppies. We need to be visible to the public, but we need to be aware and constantly on our guard for fraudsters who will use our good reputations to further their crimes.