Police have reported a rise in puppy scams during the COVID-19 pandemic, with hundreds of victims being scammed out of thousands of dollars, and have issued out warnings to future puppy owners to stay vigilant against potential scammers.

As this is a safety issue (and an affront to cute puppies everywhere), we're going to take a deep dive into what this scam is, how to spot it, what to do if this scam is spotted, and tips on buying a new puppy.


What is this puppy scam?

Scammers are essentially creating fake professional-looking websites or going onto online marketplaces and advertising puppies for sale. The most popular dog breeds advertised as part of this scam include Cavoodles, French Bulldogs, Mini Teacup Puppies, Golden Retrievers, Corgies and Dachshunds.

Once an interested buyer makes an enquiry, the scammer will send a photo of the supposed puppy to 'verify' the legitimacy of the whole thing. Generally speaking, communications will take place by email, text, online or phone.

The buyer will then be asked to make cash deposits into a bank account as part of the puppy purchasing process. This usually includes 'items' such as interstate travel, insurance, registration fees, different crates or equipment being used. Once the payments have been sent through, the scammer will cease all contact with the buyer.

It's been reported that people who have been targeted by this scam have lost between $700 to $10,000.

How to spot this scam

Puppy Scam Awareness Australia (PSAA) is a organisation dedicated to raising awareness about pet scamming syndicates who prey on pet shoppers. To protect potential puppy buyers from getting swindled, the PSAA has a list of things to look out for when vetting a seller:

  • Check out the buyer's website using https://www.whois.com.

    • If the site was created recently, this usually indicates a scam. Most legit dog breeders are well-established and have waiting lists, so check the website regularly to see if there are any changes or updates to the available puppies. Most puppies are sold quickly and if the same ones are always available then it's likely a scam.

  • Check their contact details.

    • If their phone number starts with “0480-0” or “0488-8” then it’s likely a scam.

  • Check their details - such as email address, website address or phone number - plus the word “scam” in Google and see what links come up and if there are any scam alerts.

  • Check the puppy photos using reverse image search.

    • Are the photos all similar with the same background? Are the photos used on other websites? Is the photo a one-of-a-kind image or stolen from another website?

  • Copy a testimonial into Google and see if it comes up on other websites.

  • Ask to see the puppy via video call and try to meet the seller in person before handing over any money.

    • If the seller refuses or doesn't reply, it's likely a scam.

  • Be wary of extra, unexpected costs, such as additional shipping fees or vet bills.

  • Check microchip numbers and breeder numbers on the pet registry or the association they belong to.

  • Look up the seller's ABN/business name and their breeder registration details on the Breeder Association Directory. Most reputable reputable breeders have websites, ABN and a business name.

  • Is the price too good to be true? If it is, then it's likely a scam!

What to do if you spot this scam

If you or someone you know have fallen victim to a puppy scam, report it to your local police station. If you have information in relation to the scam, report it to Scamwatch and Crime Stoppers.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

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If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: VIC Police, SA Police, The Guardian, and Puppy Scam Awareness Australia

Image credit: Torsten Dettlaff at Pexels

All content in Sonder's Help Centre is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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