How To Avoid Puppy Scams Online: Red Flags + Safety Tips

Looking to adopt a puppy? 

If so, chances are you’ve probably Googled, “puppies near me” at least once and likely came across more than a few websites advertising some of the cutest pups you’ve ever seen. Upon seeing their photos, you may have even thought about getting out your wallet and making your dream of becoming a puppy owner a reality. 

But wait—not so fast! Online puppy scams are on the rise, and there’s a few things you need to be aware of before you go falling in love with that adorable GoldenDoodle you found online.

In this article, you’ll learn what red flags to look for when it comes to buying a puppy online. We’ll also give you some safety tips that you can employ, in order to avoid being swindled by an online puppy scam!

What Are Pet Scams?

‘Online pet scam’ is the name given to a website advertising fake listings of pets for adoption. 

More specifically, pet scam websites often advertise themselves as legitimate breeders who are selling quality or even purebred animals. However, in reality, these websites aren’t really in the business of selling animals at all; they’re actually in the business of scamming people out of their money, by convincing customers that they are paying to adopt a pet that doesn’t actually exist.

Here’s how it works: a scammer creates a website advertising puppies (for example); they then advertise with plenty of the cutest photos of pups that you’ve ever seen—photos stolen from the websites of legitimate breeders, or even Google images. Then, an unsuspecting and hopeful customer finds the website and wants to adopt one of their pups, so they send over a hefty deposit, or even all of the adoption cost up front—-but, they never receive their new pet. The fake ‘breeder’ effectively disappears with the hopeful owner’s money and gives them nothing in return, effectively swindling them.

While puppy and kitten scams are most common, you can find pet scams for birds and reptiles too.

Puppy Scams

Puppy scams are the same thing as pet scams, they are simply those associated, specifically, with puppies. 

In order to avoid puppy scams online, always remember to verify important information, such as breeder reputation, location, and details about your puppy before you submit any payment details.

What Are The Red Flags & Warning Signs?

Sometimes when we get really excited about something—such as, ahem, the new pup we can’t wait to adopt—we may become less likely to exercise caution. 

The truth is, it’s so easy to get caught up in the idea of adopting your dream pet. As a result, it can be tough to grasp the fact that we could actually be setting ourselves up to fail by not thoroughly investigating a website or breeder before making a big purchase through them.

No Phone Calls or In-Person Contact

If you live in the same city or state as the breeder, there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t be able to go visit the pup of your dreams in person. Therefore, if a breeder in close proximity denies your request to meet your furry friend before you buy, that is a huge red flag that they are probably not legitimate. 

If the breeder you found lives too far away to reasonably travel to, they should, at the very least, be more than happy to answer any and all of your questions over the phone. And if they won’t take your call, steer clear from this potential scammer. 


Fake or Copied Photos

Another tell-tale sign of an online puppy scam is the use of fake or copied photos of the puppies they are claiming to sell. More specifically, these fraudsters often steal photos of the real puppies from reputable breeder’s websites— or even from a simple Google image search—in order to pass them off as their own. 

But how are you supposed to know the images are fake or copied? Well, you’re in luck. On Google, you can do something called a ‘reverse image search’. Simply copy a photo from the breeder’s site and paste it into a Google image search. Once you press “enter”, Google will search its database for where that same photo may have been uploaded elsewhere. If the same photo shows up on another breeder’s website, there’s a good chance one of those websites is a scam. Voila, your work is complete.  

Unusual Payment Methods

If your breeder asks you to pay them through unusual payment methods, such as Cashapp, Zelle, or prepaid gift cards, that’s a red flag.

Most legitimate breeders will instead ask for payment through credit card or, perhaps, Paypal.

Non-Standard Pricing

You remember the old saying— “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”. Well, when it comes to avoiding puppy scams, that saying is your new best friend.

Websites advertising puppies for significantly cheaper or below the standard value for that breed are often scams. 

Puppy Scam Websites

Puppy Scams on the Rise

Along with the pandemic came the rise of online puppy scams. With most people initially quarantining at home, followed by many spending less time in public settings, scammers were able to harness the excuse of Covid, in order to not have to meet buyers in person. 

Even now, puppy scammers are still taking advantage of this tactic, and as a result, there are arguably more online puppy scams than ever. 

Examples of Scam Sites

Here is a short list of a few known, online puppy scam sites.


Report Scams

If you have reason to believe a breeder is not legitimate—or if you yourself have been scammed—you can report the website in question to, which is dedicated to tracking and listing known online pet scams. You can also report any scams you’ve experienced to the BBB. 

How To Safely Find an Online Seller or Breeder

Do Your Own Research

When making a big online purchase of any kind, the best thing you can do to avoid being scammed is research, research, research!

Google the name of the breeder/website, along with the word “scam” or “fake”, and see if anything comes up. Check out sites like Facebook and Reddit to see if anyone has started any online threads about the breeder in question. 

Check Reviews and Referrals

While researching the breeder/website, look for online reviews and referrals from previous happy customers. 

People love writing reviews, so, the chance of there being zero or even very few online reviews for a legitimate breeder is unlikely. If there are reviews, read them—do they seem legitimate? Or do they use similar words/phrases and all sound like they were written by the same person?

Ask Questions & Ask For Proof

When you’re adopting a new furry friend, any good, legitimate breeder is going to want to make sure all of your questions are properly answered. Legitimate breeders should be knowledgeable about the dogs they are adopting out—so it’s definitely a red flag if the breeder is unable to answer specific questions about the pups. 

Another thing you’ll want to make sure to do before agreeing to adopt and coughing up any money, is ask the breeder for proof they are legitimate. For example, you can ask to see your puppy’s medical record, including a vaccine record as furnished by a vet. 

Meet Them In Person

The best way to verify the legitimacy of your breeder is simply to visit them and your prospective pup in person, if it is possible for you to do so. 

If you’re too far away and meeting in person isn’t a possibility, another alternative might be to ask them to have a Zoom chat with you. Zoom is a great way to be able to get your questions answered, and even see your prospective pup live and in color, virtually, of course!

Get Documentation

Before the adoption of your new furry friend is complete, your breeder should always provide you with copies of your pup’s information and records. You’ll know these papers are legitimate because they should have the American Kennel Club name and logo clearly visible.

If your breeder fails to provide you with the necessary papers for your pup, that is usually a red flag that everything may not be on the up-and-up.

Be Patient, Don’t Rush Buying a Puppy

One big indication someone could be a scammer is pushiness. If the breeder is trying to hurry along the sale or asks you to leave a sizable deposit right away, without giving you the time to consider everything, they may not be who they say they are. 

The fact of the matter is, real, legitimate breeders understand that committing to adopting a puppy is a BIG decision that should not be made lightly. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to the adoption process and breeders are aware of that—meaning, they should not rush you into such a large personal and financial commitment right away.

We know finding quality pups online isn’t always simple. Afterall, while many scams are easy to spot once you know what to look for, there are still scams that are especially good at evading even the best trained eye. 

Thankfully, at My Golden Retriever Puppies, you can trust that our healthy, quality Golden Retriever pups are 100% safe to buy online! Want to know how much are golden retriever puppies? Check out all our golden retriever puppies for sale to find out. With nearly 400 overwhelmingly positive customer reviews, you can feel assured that your money is safe with us. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get you paired with one of our loving pups today!

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How To Avoid Puppy Scams Online: Red Flags + Safety Tips Frequently Asked Questions

Should I pay a deposit for a puppy?

It isn’t uncommon for legitimate, reputable breeders to require a puppy deposit. However, in order to avoid getting scammed, make sure to follow the tips in this article and thoroughly investigate your breeder before paying them anything.

Is it safe to buy a puppy online?

Absolutely! As long as you do your research and follow the tips in this article to avoid puppy scams, there is no reason you shouldn’t consider buying a puppy online!

How do you know if a dog breeder is legit?

Legitimate breeders will have no problem meeting in person or, at the very least, providing proof of their legitimacy. Before sending money, always be sure to do your own research and check website/breeder reviews.

Galen has been connecting quality Golden Retriever breeders with loving families since 2012 and is the founder of My Golden Retriever Puppies. He and his wife have four children and love spending time together, traveling (lived oversees for 4 years), enjoying the outdoors and connecting Golden families.