Online Puppy Scams: How to Protect Yourself Against Fake Online Dog Breeders

RALEIGH, NC (WNCN) — It’s a heartbroken multi-million dollar scam in its wake and those who follow say it’s run by organized gangs.

We are talking about puppy scams.

A Triangle family who got caught up in the scheme is sharing their story so you don’t make the same mistakes.

An empty crate, an unfilled food bowl and brand new puppy toys waiting to be played with – all bought in anticipation of Milly, a Havanese puppy who warmed the hearts of the Mack family.

“I was excited,” said Gianna Mack. “We had all the dog stuff, and it was building up to this. I was anxious but excited.

Bought and paid for, Milly never arrived.

Not having the puppy had an emotional impact on the Mack children who lost their mother a few years ago.

“I didn’t think people would actually do this and scam people like this,” John Paul Mack said.

Their father, Joe, found the dog on a website advertising a home-bred Havanese.

This breed usually costs several thousand dollars, but Milly was sold for $700.

Joe Mack explained why the dog was so cheap.

“They were getting a new batch of puppies the following month and had to clean up those dogs,” he said. “They were willing to lower the price to do this and offered free shipping.”

Before telling his kids, Mack wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting scammed.

“I looked in the BBB, couldn’t find anything,” he said. “I looked at the American Kennel Club and there were no warning signs that this breeder was not legit.

He even did a reverse search of the photos to see if they had been used elsewhere.

Mack said he found nothing wrong.

“There was nothing,” he said. “No red flags.”

He later found out why the scammer’s website didn’t raise any red flags.

“They had just downloaded the website the week before my search,” Mack said. “It wouldn’t have appeared on any group’s radar yet.”

Just before the pup was about to be shipped from Florida to his home in North Carolina, the scammers tried to get more than the $700 they had charged for the pup.

Mack received an email saying Milly couldn’t be dispatched unless he paid a “special bad weather shipping crate” of $1,500.

This email was a red flag.

“I called poultry about it, and they literally ghosted me from then on,” he said.

Joe Mack said he tried several times to contact the puppy sellers, but they weren’t responding.

According to the founder of PetScams.com.

“I was able to find 10 other websites in the last 6 months that belong to him (the scammer),” said PetScams founder Paul Brady.

Brady said as soon as a site is discovered to be a scam, it is shut down and new ones, run by the same people, are uploaded to take their place.

He said that those people who run these scam websites are “not amateurs”.

“They are dangerous criminals,” he said.

Brady said people offering fake dogs for sale are usually overseas-based gangs and law enforcement usually doesn’t prosecute them.

“It’s never worth the work it takes to catch a scammer in a foreign country,” he said. “The cost is far too high for law enforcement to do.”

He said the best way to protect against a pet scam is to never accept still images or videos as proof from a seller that the dog exists.

“Let’s say I want to talk to the breeder and see the puppy on video at the same time,” he said.

It should be a chat like Zoom, FaceTime or Video Messenger where everyone is online at the same time.

“I should have asked to see live footage because everything they had was stolen from the internet,” Joe Mack said.

The scammers also demanded a wire transfer from Zelle, which meant that the money was unrecoverable as soon as it was sent.

“I think if I had used a credit card it would have helped me get my funds back,” he said.