Consumer business by Denisha Maxey
WHEN FOLKS are looking to buy a puppy, they often turn to the internet. Numerous breeders can be found online, advertising cute and cuddly puppies for sale. Tons of photos are posted on websites of adorable pups just waiting for a loving home.
The photos are usually accompanied by a brief biography of the dog, claims of up-to-date vaccines and statements about its wonderful, healthy condition. Some websites also include five-star reviews accompanied by testimonials from previous customers. And then there’s a statement that, to seal the deal, the breeder is offering prices lower than normal at other businesses.
Excited by the opportunity to own the puppy of your dreams, you quickly contact the breeder to initiate your purchase. To your surprise, the puppy is still available! All you need to do is send money through Western Union or MoneyGram and your new puppy will be on its way.
Stop right there! Since the start of this year, Houston Better Business Bureau has received a marked increase in puppy-scam complaints describing the same scenario.
In this scenario, the consumer finds a puppy online, contacts the seller and is told to wire money and wait for their puppy to be shipped. All the complaints end the same way – the puppy never arrives, the “breeder” stops responding to calls and e-mails and now the consumer is out of hundreds of dollars!
If you are looking to buy a puppy, use these tips to avoid being a victim of a cute and cuddly online scam.
Buy from a breeder who has a named physical location. This not only gives you a real address for the business in case you encounter any issues but also allows you to be able to see the puppy before you actually purchase it.
If you have the breeder’s address, you can also tour the facility and see the conditions in which the puppies are kept. Mostly importantly, it avoids your new puppy having to be shipped you.
Check the website and pay close attention to red flags. A fake breeder’s website might look real because the fraudsters might have taken photos from a real breeder’s website. You can copy the images from the website and do an online image search to see if they appear on other sites.
In addition, copy wording from the puppies’ descriptions and paste it into a search engine to look for identical phrases. Often scammers do not take the time to come up with an original website. They just steal another breeder’s information, just like they are waiting to steal your money!
Last but certainly not least, do not be afraid to ask a breeder for several references naming buyers you can contact to verify their experience with the seller.
Never pay for your new puppy by using MoneyGram or Western Union. Always pay by check or credit card, which allows recourse if you do find out you have been scammed.
Finally, do not forget to report any scams on BBB’s scam tracker by visiting bbbhou.org.
Denisha Maxey is director of dispute resolution at Houston Better Business Bureau.