Companion animal online selling fraud is on the rise in the US

Be aware of scammers selling companion dogs and cats online. The Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker which you can see by clicking here, tell us that there has been a substantial increase in fraudulent behaviour by scammers in America selling pets online. The number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker increased from 337 in November 2020 from 77 in the same month a year earlier, in 2019.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Scam. Image: PoC.

The average amount scammed was $750. Half of the victims are in the age range 35 to 50, said the president and CEO of BBB Metro NY.


Law enforcement and BBB advise people to be very cautious about purchasing a pet online. Comment: it is fraught with potential problems. It is not only being scammed out of hundreds of dollars which is upsetting, it is the fact that you’re not sure that you are going to receive a cat or dog at the end of it which fits in to your home in which is healthy.

It’s the kind of purchase which should be done incredibly carefully and in a face-to-face meeting so you see the companion animal in real life (and the breeder) rather than in a photograph which could be entirely fake.

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Excuses why you can’t see the animal

Apparently conversations either over the Internet (instant messaging or email) or on the phone start by the scammer providing what might sound like plausible reasons as to why the purchaser can’t see their desired companion animal in person. Although after further requests some of the reasons might seem implausible. In any case, if they keep providing reasons why you can’t I think you can be fairly sure that you are talking to a scammer.

Money upfront is a no-no for me

Scammers also ask for money upfront such as a deposit or funding for shipping and vaccines et cetera. In my experience, you should never pay money upfront. If they insist on money upfront there something is wrong with the transaction as far as I am concerned. It is not a good way to do business especially when you’ve not met the person, you’ve not met the animal you are purchasing, you know nothing about their operation, you have no idea how healthy or unhealthy the animal is and so on.

Video call?

They say you can request a video call if you can’t meet the seller and the companion animal in person. I’m not sure that works that well either. You can fake an awful lot on a video call. It could all be fakery and false representations.

Picture is genuine?

If they send you a picture of your desired companion animal the first thing to do is to presume that it is not the animal that you are going to try and buy. You might do a Google search and see whether it is been lifted from Google images. I think this is what they mean by “conduct a reverse image search on the photo”.

Inflated prices during Covid pandemic

If you are convinced after an abundance of caution that the animal does exist and the seller is okay then you’ve got to be commercial and businesslike about the price. You have to be aware of pricing. There have been some horrendously high prices of companion animals bought online. Scammers are jacking up prices by a factor of 3 sometimes i.e. 3 times the normal price. Comment: personally I would never allow myself to be financially taken for a ride like that. I would walk away from it. I doesn’t matter how desperately keen you are to adopt a cat or dog.

Dogs more than cats?

I have to say though that these scammers are more likely to be dog sellers because there are far more purebred dogs than there are purebred cats and therefore they can scam more effectively selling dogs because they can ask inflated prices. Random bred or moggy cats can never attract a high price unless, once again, they are scanning people by saying that the cat is purebred.


Cat registration papers if they are purebred? All other papers concerning medicals? Contract? It should be in writing and read before you buy. Ask them to email it before you even start selecting a companion animal.

Credit card purchase

If you do purchase an animal it is probably sensible to purchase with a credit card because you have added protections in many countries when you use a credit card. You may be able to get your money back if you are scammed when you use a credit card but check the law on that beforehand. I know it’s tiresome and you want to get on with things but this kind of preparation will pay dividends.

Disclosure of bank details?

Don’t fill out an online form with your account information. It may leave you open to somebody raiding your bank account.

Bottom line?

The bottom line? Don’t buy online. Wait until the pandemic is over, rethink the adoption of a companion animal then and if you still want to go ahead, visit the breeder if you’re buying a purebred cat or dog or better still visit an animal rescue centre.

Rescues open during lockdowns?

I’m not sure whether you can visit rescue centres during pandemic lockdowns. If you can, I’d adopt a dog from a rescue centre and totally bypass these horrible abusive online scammers.

Think of the cat

If a scammer is selling cats online and ripping people off what chance is there that the person is conerned about animal welfare? Not much. These are animals in the hands of unscrupulous traders. Not good.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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