Columnists
Let's Reminisce: Beware of the puppy scams
By Jerry Lincecum
Oct 19, 2020
Print this page
Email this article

My admittedly limited experience in obtaining puppies did not prepare me for the shock of reading about today’s puppy scams.  When I was a boy, on two occasions our family wanted a new dog and we quickly found neighbors who had fresh litters and were willing to share.  Then when my son celebrated his first birthday, I had no difficulty finding a hybrid “cocker-poodle” pup that became a beloved member of our family.  Finally, I purchased a registered Australian Shepherd puppy as a gift for my wife and it too became as dear to us as a child.

But there is a new chapter being written, precisely at a time when pandemic isolation is making more people seek the companionship that comes from obtaining and raising a dog. For example, Frank Todd’s beloved 17-year-old dog, a long-haired dachshund, recently died and Mr. Todd wanted a new puppy. He couldn’t find any breeders with puppies available mid-pandemic, so he began scrolling through pictures of puppies for sale online. He eventually settled on a short-haired dachshund named Pippa.

After exchanging emails with the seller, he paid $800 using a mobile payment service. He was told to expect delivery in early August. Pippa never arrived. “At first I was like ‘No, this really can’t be a scam,’” said Mr. Todd. “Who would stoop so low as to scam with puppies?” Lots of people, it turns out.

Many people have decided now is the perfect time to adopt a furry friend. Because they are staying home to avoid being infected by the coronavirus, many of these transactions are moving online. That has given scammers an opportunity.

The Better Business Bureau tracks all kinds of consumer fraud, and it has recorded more than 2,100 online pet scams in the United States and Canada from mid- February to the end of July this year, up from 700 during the same period last year.

The Australian government recently issued a press release to caution its citizens not to get “scammed looking for a lockdown puppy.” The government has logged more than 1,000 puppy scams through July, double the amount recorded all of last year.
According to Australian authorities, the most common breeds used as bait are French Bulldogs and Cavoodles—which are mixes between Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and poodles. Some U.S. states have issued similar warnings.

North Carolina’s Attorney General issued a consumer alert about puppy scams in April. A pet scam alert from the Michigan Attorney General warned: “Due to these thieves often being outside the United States, the prospects of getting money back are extremely low.”

For scammers, cute pictures are key. Some build elaborate custom websites with dozens of pictures of dogs and fake testimonials. Others spam Craigslist with fake dog postings. A dog-show champion named Tilly, who lives in Maine, is frequently used as bait. Photographs of Tilly and her children often show up on scam sites, taken from their owner’s Instagram page without permission, to entice would-be dog buyers.

Tilly and her brood are members of the Pugdashians, the name owner Lori Sirois gave to her glamorous pug family, inspired by the celebrity Kardashians. The Pugdashians dress in matching raincoats and striped shirts, and have over 200,000 Instagram followers, not bad for pugs.  If you’re curious, you can find some of the dog’s pictures on YouTube. Just don’t expect to be able to buy one. And be wary of buying any puppies online.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches classes for older adults who want to write their life stories.  He welcomes your reminiscences on any subject: jlincecum@me.com