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Portrait of a cute young mixed breed puppy and kitten with black and white fur

You’ve decided that you want to bring a furry friend into your home, so you go online to conduct some research. As you’re browsing, an ad for an adorable puppy catches your attention. He’s cute, cuddly, and even better, free! All you have to do is pay for shipping costs.

Scammers often pose as breeders selling animals online only to vanish with your money. They use images of pets they don’t own, advertise a new litter of puppies or concoct a sad story to go along with a picture of the animal (the previous owner died or the owner can’t take care of it anymore). After expressing your interest, the scammer guides you on how to pay for shipping. Some scammers throw in costs for extras such as live animal insurance to help convince you its real. They provide fake information as to when your pet should arrive, but it never does and you have no recourse to get your money back.

Other variations of this scam involve animals that do exist. You might buy a pet you saw advertised only to discover it has significant health issues, and may even need to be euthanized. You’re out hundreds or thousands of dollars in medical costs and the seller is nowhere to be found. Scammers have also been known to steal pets from homeowners’ yards (generally small, popular breeds such as Yorkies or Pomeranians) and resell them online. If your pet is microchipped when you purchase it, ask your veterinarian to scan it. You may learn the pet already has an owner who has been frantically searching for it.

And sadly, some scammers prey on owners of missing pets. They call the number on the missing posters you put up all over town claiming to have found it. They will request reward payment upfront and might threaten to harm the animal or let it go if you don’t pay.

Tips for consumers:

  • Pets are expensive and are a life-long responsibility. Carefully consider whether you have the resources and time to responsibly care for a pet.
  • There are thousands of adoptable pets in need of good homes. Visit a local shelter or rescue organization (or use an online rescue) to find your perfect companion. Shelters and rescues might charge a nominal fee, but your pet is usually up-to-date on shots and spayed/neutered.
  • If a purebred animal is a must, make sure the breeder is reputable. Perform an internet search on them, paying attention to complaints and warnings. Your research upfront can save you money.
  • Ask for copies of vet records, health certificates, vaccinations and licenses. All dogs over six months must be licensed in the town where the dog is kept.
  • If the seller asks you to send money through a wire transfer, PayPal, Venmo, or any other money transfer service, be very cautious. It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get your money back. Pay with a check or credit card, as these have more protections.
  • Unless your pet is arriving through a rescue organization transport, pick your pet up in person. If an online seller refuses to let you meet the animal before you pay or won’t accept payment in person, that’s a red flag. Remember to meet any stranger in a well-lit, populated area—many police stations will allow sale transactions to occur on police property.
  • Have your pet microchipped. In the event the animal goes missing or is stolen, the pet can be scanned for a microchip. Each microchip has a unique ID number registered to its owner.
  • If your pet goes missing, be sure to notify your local police, animal control officer, veterinarians, and any animal shelters. Most people who find a missing pet will contact an official entity to help them track down the owner. If someone calls threatening harm to your animal or demanding payment for its return, take note of the phone number and notify the police immediately.

For most consumers, pets are family. But unfortunately, to some, they are means to quick cash. Remember to always report lost or abandoned animals and suspected animal abuse to your local law enforcement.

For more information on buying a pet in Massachusetts, visit the Department of Agricultural Resources website.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.



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