Adopting a rescue dog? Watch out for phony fees

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 5:16 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - During COVID-19, so many people adopted dogs that they emptied local shelters. If you are looking to rescue a furry friend, watch out for scams. Puppy scams are targeting people who want to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, by impersonating real animal shelters or posing as individuals wanting to rehome an animal.

How the Scam Works

You are looking to adopt a dog, and you find an animal shelter or individual online wanting to rehome a puppy. You message them for more information and receive a convincing, heart-tugging backstory. In one recent BBB Scam Tracker report, a scammer claimed to be finding a new home for her poodle after a car accident left her unable to care for the dog. In other cases, scammers impersonate real animal shelters.

In this version of the puppy scam, the scammer may not charge for the dog. Instead, they ask for a refundable deposit to “hold” the pup or request payment to ship the pet to your home. Most scammers ask you to pay through a digital wallet (Zelle was mentioned in several reports) or use a pre-paid debit card or gift card. Although this scam mostly involves dogs, it can also include cats and other pets.

After you pay, the problems start. One victim reported driving to the “shelter” to pick up their new dog, only to find no such address existed. “I called, and they texted me that they are coming down with the puppy. I asked them where and no answer. Finally, after 10 calls the phone was NOT accepting any calls!  By then it was quite clear I am not getting the puppy AND I’m out $300.”

In other versions of the scam, the con artists offer to ship the dog. But first you need to pay up for emergency vet visits, additional shipping fees, or even a COVID-19 test. The scammers ask for more money to resolve the problem, often promising to refund it after the pet is delivered. They may even claim that the pet will be euthanized if you don’t pay up. Once they’ve gotten your money, scammers disappear. The dog never existed.

How to Avoid Pet Adoption Scams

  • Never buy or adopt a pet without seeing it in person. This is the best way to ensure you aren’t caught in a con.
  • Do an internet search of the pet’s image. If you do find a puppy online, upload the pet’s photo to a reverse image search. If you find multiple pet adoption sites using the same picture, it’s probably a scam.
  • Use money transfer with friends: Protect yourself from scams by only using money transfer apps for their intended purpose -- sending money to people you personally know.

For More Information

For more information on puppy scams, see BBB’s full report on puppy scams. Learn more about how scammers impersonated a dog rescue in San Francisco.

If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams. Find more information about scams and how to avoid them at

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