"Purebred Puppy - FREE To Good Home." It's easy to see why ads like this pull on the heartstrings of dog lovers who jump at the chance to adopt an adorable, soon-to-be-homeless puppy -- especially when the puppy is a sought-after, expensive breed.
Dr. Audri G. Lanford, Co-Director of ScamBusters.org, cautions would-be puppy parents that puppy scams are growing at an astounding rate. ScamBusters.org is a public service website that has been helping people protect themselves from Internet scams since 1994.
"Dog lovers have become frequent victims of a very old-fashioned scam: selling something that doesn't exist," says Dr. Lanford. In the case of puppy scams, con artists advertise puppies in a classified ad or online.
Some scammers claim to be seeking a home for a puppy they can no longer keep, and then ask you to wire them hundreds of dollars to ship the new, non-existent puppy to you. Other scammers, posing as breeders, have puppies listed for sale -- often asking ridiculously low prices for purebred puppies that may otherwise cost $1,000 or more.
ScamBusters.org urges consumers to use due diligence when purchasing or adopting a puppy, especially online or via classified ads. Here are a three questions to ask:
1. Is the advertiser insisting that you pay via Western Union or another wire service? "That's a tell-tale sign of a scam," says Dr. Lanford. "It's almost impossible for a consumer to recover money from a wire service if they've been scammed. It's far better to use a credit card."
2. Does the alleged breeder seem to care more about payment than about the welfare of the puppies? "That's a big red flag. Reputable breeders will be far more concerned with the suitability of your home than the contents of your bank account," says Dr. Lanford.
3. Can you see the puppy, its littermates and at least one of its parents in person? (Probably not if it's a scam -- because there are no puppies.)
If you have your heart set on adding a new purebred puppy to your family, ScamBusters.org suggests that you personally visit established breeders in your own area. Better yet, says Lanford, "save a life and rescue a dog from your local animal shelter."
You can find additional tips on avoiding puppy scams by visiting ScamBusters.org.