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Puppies for Sale: The States with the Most Online Puppy Scams

Lily Velez

By

Medically reviewed by

Veterinarians.org Staff

puppies for sale

Puppies for Sale – The States with the Most Puppy Scams: Highlights

  • From January 1, 2021 to October 31, 2021, there were 165% more puppy scams in the U.S. than during the same time period in pre-pandemic 2019. 
  • California is the state with the most reported puppy scams, with 345 scams reported to the Better Business Bureau during the analyzed time frame. Collectively, scam victims in California lost over a quarter of a million dollars to puppy scams, with the average amount of money lost per victim totaling $733.69.
  • Among the states with the most puppy scams overall, Michigan reported the highest amount of money lost per scam. In this state, scam victims lost on average $1,097. 
  • With regards to the number of scams per 100K people, Montana tops the list at 1.94 scams per 100,000 residents. 
  • Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, and Washington are the only states both in the Top 15 for most puppy scams overall as well as the Top 15 for most reported puppy scams per 100,000 people. 
  • Typical warning signs of a puppy scam include the seller claiming you won’t be able to view the puppy in person first due to COVID restrictions and requiring you to pay a deposit to reserve the puppy through Western Union, MoneyGram, Zelle, or Cash App. 

 

The term ‘puppies for sale’ receives over a quarter of a million internet searches every month. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, online searches for puppies have particularly skyrocketed. Google Trends shows that in April 2020, when social distancing and quarantine mandates were first going into effect in the U.S., searches for puppies reached unprecedented levels, with the popularity extending into the summer as isolation no doubt began to impact the mental health of millions of Americans. Another peak followed in November, a time of year that normally sees increased interest in puppies for sale due to families wanting to add a Christmas puppy to their household. 

However, scammers have taken advantage of pandemic-driven social distancing practices: in 2021, there were 165% more scams related to the online purchase of puppies than there were in pre-pandemic 2019. Discover where puppy scams are most prevalent in the U.S. and how to identify the warning signs of a scam when adopting a puppy online. 

 

 

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Puppies for Sale – The States with the Most Puppy Scams: Methodology

The Better Business Bureau maintains an archive of all scams reported to the organization since 2015. The archive encompasses all spam types including bank and credit card company imposters, counterfeit products, debt collections, fake invoices, foreign money exchange, identity theft, online purchases, and more.  

For the purpose of this study, the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org investigated all U.S.-based scam types reported to the Better Business Bureau during the ten-month period beginning on January 1, 2021 and ending on October 31, 2021, which specifically contained the keyword ‘puppy.’ The team studied the number of scams reported per state and the average amount of money lost per scam in each state. Using data from Statista Research Department, the team also compared each state’s population to the number of scams reported during the specified time frame.  

 

The States with the Most Puppy Scams: Overview

Using scam data from the Better Business Bureau’s archives and population data from Statista Research Department, the Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org analyzed the compiled figures for this study to develop two reports:

  1. The States with the Most Puppy Scams Overall
  2. The States with the Most Puppy Scams Per 100K People 

 

Overall, there were nearly 3,000 puppy-related scams reported to the Better Business Bureau between January 1, 2021 and October 31, 2021. This is an increase of 165% from the same time period in pre-pandemic 2019. On average, the amount of money lost by scam victims in the most scam-prevalent states totals in the high hundreds, and in some cases, passes the thousand-dollar figure. 

The increase in puppy scams in 2020 and 2021 from pre-pandemic years is often the result of scammers insisting on social distancing practices in their online exchanges with individuals. Scammers will often assert that interested parties will not be able to view their puppy of choice in person due to COVID restrictions but that a deposit must still be paid in order to hold the puppy until it’s old enough to be shipped to its new home. In other cases, scammers may mention healthcare work that has called them to another state to lend support to a hospital due to COVID, citing this as the reason they’re unable to meet with interested parties in-person. In almost all cases, scammers will instruct parties to send the required deposit through a wire transfer or through a platform such as Cash App or Zelle, where a refund is often impossible due to the fact that the sender has already authorized the exchange.   

 

Where in the U.S. are Puppy Scams the Most Prevalent?  

California is the state with the most reported puppy scams, with 345 scams reported to the Better Business Bureau from January 1, 2021 to October 31, 2021. Collectively, scam victims in California lost over a quarter of a million dollars to puppy scams, with the average amount of money lost per victim totaling $733.69. 

Texas, Florida, and New York follow closely behind, with scam victims in these states on average losing more than $700, though Texas stands out with its $913.20 total. Victims in Texas collectively lost over $220,000 to puppy scams, with many victims finding themselves conned out of several thousand dollars in certain instances. 

Michigan, however, stands out with the highest amount of money lost on average to puppy-related scams. In this state, scam victims lost on average $1,097. 

states with the most puppies for sale scams

 

The States with the Most Puppy Scams Per 100K People 

The Special Reports Team at Veterinarians.org also compared the number of scams reported per state with each state’s population size to analyze where puppy scams are most prevalent based on the number of reports per 100,000 people. 

In this study, Montana topped the list with 1.94 scams per 100,000 people, although victims in this state lost the lowest amount of money compared to other states in the ranking, with scam victims losing on average $357.44. Colorado (1.50), Nevada (1.43), and Idaho (1.42) follow closely behind in terms of number of scams per 100,000 people, and the District of Columbia also makes the list at 1.41. In this ranking, Nevada stands out as the state with the highest amount of money lost per scam, with scam victims losing $1,003.44 on average. 

Of special note: Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, and Washington make both of the Team’s Top 15 lists. These states not only reported the most puppy scams overall during the specified time frame but also reported the most scams per 100,000 people.  

the states with the most puppy scams per 100K people

 

How to Identify a Puppy Scam: 5 Warning Signs 

With thousands of puppy scams reported over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are common themes among the reports filed with the Better Business Bureau. These themes can help those who plan to use the internet to search for a new puppy avoid a potential scam. What follows are the most common warning signs among puppy-related scams. 

  1. The seller claims that you will not be able to see the puppy in person before adoption and/or is unable to provide you with multiple pictures/videos of the puppy up for adoption.
  2. The seller asks for payment up front through Western Union, MoneyGram, a digital money app like Zelle or Cash App, or via a gift card.
  3. The seller or a third party asks for payment to cover additional items such as a climate-controlled crate for shipping, vaccinations, or transportation insurance/life insurance. In many cases, fraudulent emails will claim the shipping costs/crate rental fees will be refunded upon the puppy’s delivery. However, they never are.
  4. The breeder’s website offers no information about the sire or dam of the litter and/or the breeder is unable to provide proof of health records or AKC Certification.
  5. In the case of purebred breeds, the puppy in question is being offered at a significantly steep discount when compared with the average price for a puppy of its breed.

 

Puppies for Sale: Alternatives to Buying Online 

Despite the ease of searching for a puppy through online marketplaces such as Craigslist and Facebook Market, as well as through independently-owned websites, these platforms are commonly referenced in reports filed with the Better Business Bureau, as they are open for use by anyone, even individuals not residing in the U.S. Those searching for an animal to adopt, therefore, should exercise extreme caution when utilizing such sites, keeping the aforementioned warning signs in mind at all times when interacting with sellers.  

There are several alternatives to online platforms when it comes to searching for a new puppy, however. Local animal shelters and rescue groups often boast large numbers of animals that are waiting for a new home. Such organizations allow prospective adopters to interact with their animal of choice in-person to determine its compatibility with all members of the household. Adoption fees also tend to be significantly lower than what an individual might pay through an online breeder. Adopting from these organizations also helps reduce animal overpopulation in shelters, allowing more animals in need to be taken in and cared for. 

For those interested in a purebred pet, it’s long been estimated that anywhere from 20-30% of the dogs in shelters are purebred. There are also numerous breed-specific rescue groups available across the nation. The AKC Rescue Network, for instance, consists of over 400 such groups. Additionally, individuals can search for breeder associations or clubs (e.g. Golden Retriever Club of America, Poodle Club of America, etc.) to find reputable breeders affiliated with the American Kennel Club.

 

Puppies for Sale: Final Thoughts

In light of current search trends when it comes to puppies for sale, and the popularity of seeking animal companionship during the pandemic, online puppy scams may continue to be an issue across the U.S. However, individuals and families can protect themselves from scams by making themselves aware of the typical warning signs of a scam, and by adopting through an animal shelter, rescue group, or AKC-certified reputable breeder. Raising awareness of such scams can also help to bring an end to them.

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