Don’t get bitten by puppy scams
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
It’s hard to resist the cute face, wet nose and wagging tail of a new puppy. In the days before the Internet, you probably browsed the classifieds of your local paper or headed to the local animal shelter or pet shop to find your new companion. Now, with the click of a mouse you can pick out a pup and have it delivered right to your doorstep. But there can be serious pitfalls to avoid when purchasing your next pet online.
Unlike clothes or electronics, when you buy a dog over the Internet
you can’t just ship it back if it isn’t what you expected. There are horror stories of puppies arriving sick and malnourished and dying within hours of being delivered. Although many websites offer a money-back health guarantee, it often can be difficult to get back in touch with the seller once the puppy has been delivered. In most cases, there isn’t an easy way to get a refund so many people who had their hearts set on a new puppy wind up broken hearted and out hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
While there are legitimate breeders who sell puppies, cats and other pets online, there are also scammers who are out to rip you off. Recently, emails and classified ads have appeared in North Carolina and across the country offering expensive pure-bred puppies for free or at unbelievable prices. The alleged breeder often claims to be relocating to Africa for a religious mission and needs to find a good home for their puppies. Once you respond, the breeder asks you to wire shipping and handling costs, usually $200, to Africa and promises that the puppy will arrive in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, even after you wire the money, you never get your puppy.
Buying a puppy is not only a financial investment but also an emotional one. Consider these tips whether you get your pet online or from a local breeder or shelter:
- Make sure you’re ready for a new pet. Pets can be a wonderful addition to your home but they are also a big responsibility. Make sure that you and your family are ready to deal with the demands of a dog, cat or other pet before you decide to get one.
- Consider Adoption. There are thousands of dogs and cats waiting at local animal shelters for a good home. Whether you want a puppy or a more mature dog, a purebred pet or a one-of-a-kind mixed breed, your shelter likely has a great selection of animals who’ve been screened for good health and behavior.
- Do your homework. If you’re looking for a particular breed of dog, contact your local kennel club for a list of reputable breeders. Visit the site to see the puppy and the conditions under which it’s been raised. Avoid puppy mills where puppies are churned out for a profit with little attention given to their health or living conditions.
- Check out the breeder. Whether you purchase your puppy online or through a local breeder, be sure to check out the breeder’s reputation. You can call your local Better Business Bureau, American Kennel Club chapter or my office to see if there are any complaints against the breeder. It’s also smart to request references or ask to speak to people who have purchased from the breeder before.
- Get it in writing. Make sure you know upfront how much the puppy will cost and what’s included in the price. If there is a health guarantee, make sure the breeder puts the terms in writing. Be sure to get a copy of all health records and kennel club certifications.
- Beware of scams. If you’re buying a puppy online, beware of fraudulent websites that post pictures of adorable puppies in hopes of taking your money. Never wire money or send cash to anyone claiming to be a breeder. If they won’t allow you to pay by credit card, offer to pay through a secure escrow payment site. This will give you added protection if something goes wrong.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his Consumer Protection Division want North Carolina consumers to get what they pay for when they spend their hard-earned money. We are here to be of service when you need us, but through consumer education efforts like these columns we hope to help North Carolinians avoid problems from the start.