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How to avoid puppy scams in South Africa

Approx. 7 minutes read

Online scams involving would-be pet owners and the animals they think they’re buying are more common than we’d like to admit. Love can blind you and make you believe you’re buying a legitimate puppy from a good breeder, but there are ruthless, remorseless people out there who are cashing in on the best intentions of animal lovers. If you’re looking for a puppy on the internet, BEWARE of paying over your hard-earned money and being taken for a ride.

How puppy scams work

Scammers rely on these common traits of people who want to buy puppies online:

  • Buyers who prefer the convenience of being able to cherry-pick a cute puppy that can be delivered to their door.
  • They like the instant gratification of receiving their purchase immediately.
  • They believe what they read on the internet.

Puppy search online

Potential puppy buyers will Google where to buy the breed they are looking for, using search terms like ‘labrador puppies for sale South Africa’ or ‘female Yorkie puppy for sale’ or ‘French bulldog puppy for sale’ and, thanks to Google’s use of search algorithms and the scammers’ understanding of SEO, the scammy websites will appear in the search results – even in the Google Ads. Yup, the scammers pay for Google Ads just to look legit and go on scamming more people. The potential puppy buyer clicks on the website and is often met with a whole list of different breeds of puppies that the seller ‘has available’. It’s so convenient!

Making contact with the seller (scammer)

The buyer expresses an interest in a particular puppy and the conversation moves to WhatsApp. The scammer will send photos and/or videos of the puppy – it even has a name, just to make the sale seem more believable and to give the heartstrings an extra pull. The scammer will ask the buyer where they are located, then they’ll say their ‘kennels’ are a great distance from the buyer. Since the buyer is unable to view the puppy in person, it becomes inevitable that they will need to use a courier to transport the puppy. In these instances, the courier is yet another scam operation.

To be clear: the puppy the buyer has fallen in love with doesn’t exist!

Making payment

At this point, the scammer will ask for payment via EFT and demand that they money be cleared immediately so that they can courier the puppy ‘tomorrow’. As soon as the buyer makes a payment to the scammer, the ‘courier company’ then needs an additional payment (usually in the region of R13,000) for a special temperature-regulating ‘electronic crate’ to transport the puppy – an amount that will be refunded on delivery of the puppy.

The point of no return

It’s usually by now that the buyer will say the price is too much and they want their money back. The scammers will either make up a story in a last-ditch effort to get the buyer to make one final big payment, or they will stop responding on WhatsApp and block the buyer. Some potential buyers will make the exorbitant courier payment, expecting to receive their puppy the following day as well as a refund for the electronic temperature-regulating crate.

The next day comes and no puppy arrives. Their desperate calls and WhatsApps go unanswered. The jig is up when the buyer gets a lousy feeling in their gut and does a Google or Facebook search for puppy scams… realising they’ve been had.

How to identify puppy scams

Now that you know how puppy scams work, the best way to ensure you don’t get scammed out of your money for a non-existent puppy is to recognise scammers’ tricks when you see them.

  • On the scammer’s website, the name of the so-called breeder has the words ‘puppy’, ‘home’, ‘adorable’ or similar-sounding emotional words, which appeal to your need for a cute puppy. Reputable, KUSA-registered dog breeders do not market their puppies – they showcase the breed they are passionate about. And they seldom have puppies available.
  • The website lists many different dog breeds, all of which – miraculously – have puppies available at the same time.

Reputable, KUSA-registered dog breeders have waiting lists of potential homes that they have carefully screened and hand-picked themselves. They hardly ever have puppies available for sale to a random stranger on the internet. If you want a healthy, pure breed puppy, you will have to be home-checked and placed on a waiting list.

  • There is no such thing as a ‘teacup Yorkie’ or any ‘teacup’ breed. If these puppies do exist, they are likely to be unhealthy or litter runts with bad genetics, which can cost owners a LOT of money in vet bills and even an untimely death. Do not let your emotions get the better of you.

A scammer may send you registration papers for the puppy in question. These are likely to be fake. Your best bet is to contact the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA) and check any registration information that has been given to you.

  • The scammer may send you a picture of their ID as a show of legitimacy. They are very likely sending you the ID of someone who’s been scammed by them before – using identity theft to perpetuate their scam. Never send them your own ID, as it may be used to scam someone else in future.
  • On WhatsApp, the scammer may send pictures and videos of ‘your puppy’, but will refuse to video call with you, claiming they have very little data, bad signal or some other excuse.

A reputable breeder who cares about the health of their puppies will never sell to someone who hasn’t seen their puppies in real life or expressed an interest in their breed for the right reasons.

  • The scammer doesn’t care if YOU are a suitable fit for the puppy – they show absolutely no regard for the puppy’s future wellbeing in your home; whether you understand the personality traits, exercise and training needs, and grooming needs of the breed, and whether you are introducing the puppy to a multi-pet household and whether all the pets will get along. They don’t advise you on the best type of dog food to ensure the puppy will thrive. They are ‘selling’ puppies like commodities and their aim is to make money. The same applies to backyard breeders and puppy mills.

A reputable breeder aims to improve the breed bloodlines, eliminate health problems from the genetic pool and take excellent care of their dogs and puppies. They will never sell their puppies to people who don’t prioritise their puppies’ health and long-term wellbeing. You will be invited to view the puppies and the parents, get to know them and wait until the puppies are ready to go home with you. The screening process will be strict because the puppy’s lifelong wellbeing is at stake.

  • Scammers market ‘cheap’ puppies to make a quick buck from unsuspecting pet lovers who simply want a companion animal. Backyard breeders will actually sell you that cheap puppy without giving a second thought to the health of their puppies or the wellbeing of their breeding stock, since their operation is about making money – not about caring for animals.

Serious breed enthusiasts go to great lengths to ensure their champion dogs are thriving. They attempt to widen the genetic pool in order to minimise breed-related health problems, perform DNA testing and health screening to make sure their future litters are healthy and strong, and do not carry genetic disorders. They breed for temperament and function, not for size (hence no ‘teacup’ breeds). This kind of endeavour costs an exorbitant amount of money, which is why pure breed puppies are expensive and buyers will get what they pay for.

How to find a puppy and avoid being scammed

  • Rule number one is to never buy puppies directly off Gumtree, JunkMail, OLX or Facebook. There is a great chance of being scammed if you take this route. The other risk with these advertised puppies is that they are merely the result of backyard accidents or backyard breeders, in which case they may very well come with health problems that could end up costing you a fortune. Is it worth the risk?
  • If you insist on using the internet to find a puppy, do a search on this list of known scammer names, websites and phone numbers.
  • Also read through the posts on the Facebook page: Puppy SCAMS in South Africa and avoid falling for the same scams by the same people.
  • Ask to join the Facebook Group ‘KUSA Ethical Breeders’ and build a relationship with the breeder of your dog breed of choice. Ask for advice and always double-check any references to registered breeders and registration numbers with the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA) themselves.

The best way to find a puppy and avoid being scammed

But what if you can’t afford a pure breed puppy and you don’t want to wait a year or more to bring your furry friend home? Every year thousands of abandoned, neglected and stray dogs and puppies are euthanised in animal shelters. Adopting from a shelter or SPCA is the cheapest and most feel-good way to bring a new pet home for you to love and adore. Rest assured, you will get that love and adoration back 100-fold. Adoption is also the most fail-safe way to avoid being scammed, since you:

  • see the puppy/dog in person
  • undergo the appropriate home check to make sure YOU are a suitable owner
  • adopt a puppy/dog that is already vet-checked, vaccinated, dewormed, sterilised and microchipped – saving you thousands of rands in puppy start-up costs

Join the Facebook groups of your local SPCA and other pet rescue organisations, or find the breed-specific rescue groups on Facebook, which often post of the new puppies and dogs they have available for adoption. Very often a lot of vigilance, awareness and patience will ensure the right puppy finds you… without the risk of you being scammed.

Pet heroes all deserve the love of dogs – just make sure you’re not blinded by that love when searching for a new puppy.

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