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How to spot a scam


Pawprint puppy scam warning


When searching for a puppy, or any pet, be careful you don't get scammed! Follow your gut feeling. If you think it's a scam, it probably is!

The breeders on this website (petsplace.co.za) are NOT scams. They are screened by me, and many have been listed for years with no complaints. This is what you can expect from an honest breeder:

If a breeder has puppies,  ask for a video call. Nursing mothers must not be disturbed, but if the puppies are 5 weeks or more, they should be running around.  Get the breeder to point out the liveliest, healthiest one. See if the parents are in good condition. Be pleasant, but be persistent that you see the puppies and parents before you pay!

You order a puppy. The breeder tells you that transport is extra. The breeder makes all the arrangements for transport. The cost of transport and a crate is included in the amount you have to pay. You pay a deposit to secure a puppy. The balance is to be paid before the puppy leaves the breeder. Inoculations and microchip are included in the price. It can take weeks to register a puppy, so the breeder may post the certificate to you along with a vet's card to show what vaccinations the pup had, or if they get it in time, they may send it in the same crate as the pup. Puppies might not see a vet until they are 6 weeks old, so they won't have a vet's certificate till they go.  If you want a copy of the parents' registration certificates before you pay, the breeder can email it to you.

That's a summary of what you can expect from the breeders on this site.

But if you intend to visit other websites, you may come across scams.


Here are some clues to look for if you think it might be a puppy scam.


Suspicious Websites

Scammers are setting up their own websites that look like a puppy business. Their shelves are well-stocked with every breed. They often have wonderful names like "FantasticPuppies-SA.com" Sometimes they add on -SA to the name to make it look like it's a South African site. or SA without the hyphen - "lovelydogssa.com"  The word "home" is trending on the website names they invent, eg sharonpuppieshome,co.za. "Teacup puppies" can be a scam because dogs don't fit in a teacup, but scammers know folk want one. The words "business,"  "family business," "Sales team," "Orders Department," "Accountant," is a sign that it's most likely a scam. Real dog breeders don't see their dogs as a "business." The scammer is clearly in it for the money.

Before you start your search, write down name of the site you are on - many pet sites are similar - and take screen shots as you move from page to page. As well as noting the name of the website - write down the URL, and bookmark it so you can find it again. Write down the date that you saw the ad. Before contacting a seller, Google the breed again & visit the other sites. You may find the same dog is being sold on other sites by other scammers.

Are there logos on the website that are meaningless? They could be copied off an overseas website. The scammer doesn't know they are irrelevant in SA

That's good advice, but once we find the breed we want, we don't care where we saw the ad - it's so exciting to find the dog of one's dreams! You can't wait to enquire about it!

Contact details

The "Contact" page may give you a red flag if you find only a form to fill up, and you cannot speak to the breeder. Always try to deal with the breeder direct - not an agent who is claiming to procure a puppy from a secret location.

Write down all the numbers. They may say the cell belongs to a partner or employee (Why?)  It could be a stolen phone.

Google the phone numbers.  See if it has been used for other deals. If it is being used for lots of ads for all different breeds, be careful. Some breeders do have more than one breed, but the dogs don't all have puppies at the same time.

Be careful how much info you give the seller. They can easily get your name, address, cell number, email, bank details, and ID number. They can then open accounts in your name! Use a spare cell and a spare gmail, and hide as much info as you can.


Who is the breeder? What is the breeder's name?

A breeder is the person who owns the dog who had the puppies. If you can't contact the breeder direct, something is wrong. Good breeders only sell to approved homes and they wouldn't give a litter to an agent to sell. They want to know where their puppies are going. You need to know the full name. Scammers often use distinctly South African names, to put people off guard. They may not be South African. Good breeders give support to their customers for the rest of the dog's life. You need to be able to contact them for advice over any health issues in years to come.


If it's a scam, the person you are dealing with is probably not a breeder, but is pretending to be an agent who can procure puppies. Let's call her a suspect. Here are some things to find out:

What is the suspect's address?

Before you can ask where the scamster is, she has already found out where YOU are if you filled up a form. She then invents an adddress in a town far away from you in case you come to her house and see that she has no dogs. Scammers can easily copy a name and address from the internet. Try searching Google for the address to see if it has been copied. Google Maps may help. Ask if a friend can drop by. Of course, if you have already paid, they won't stop you travelling to this false address.


What does the suspect sound like?

The good thing about text messages is that you have a record, but phone the seller at least once and listen to the voice. Would you recognise the voice again? Are they English, Afrikaans, Nigerian, American, or other? Record calls. Don't do business by forms, emails, and text only. Be suspicious if the suspect is always out and you have to speak to someone else. Folk can change their name but not their voice.

When you phone a suspect, listen carefully. Is the call being forwarded to another number? Listen to background noises, especially voices. Note the quality of the call - it could be long distance.

The scammer may send you a copy of an ID book. You can tell what age the scammer is supposed to be. Does the voice fit the age?


What does the suspect look like?

You can chat face to face by video on facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, etc. in real time.  Check the background. Ask to see the puppies' parents. If the pups are ready to go, the suspect must show you the puppies.

Check the person on social media. They can put up a false profile, of course. Lots of profiles. Is there a different cell number on facebook that you can take note of?


Fake Photos

Those photos of sweet puppies melt your heart! But they may be PhotoShopped. Right click on the photos on the site to see if they appear on other sites. They may have been copied from another site without permission. Check Google images, and Bing. Or they may have got them from a breeder by pretending to want to buy a puppy. Try http://tineye.com to check photo useage.

Do all the puppies seem the same age? Ask for photos of the parents. If it's a scam they will make an excuse not to send more photos. If they send a video, was it forwarded to them by someone else? Rather arrange a face-to-face video call with the scammmer to see your puppy's siblings and parents. If they DO show you the litter, then it's probably not a scam at all! It's delightful to see a whole litter at play. Pick the most active one - you can't tell by a photo. Only a video can tell. Please note - the video is only effective if the puppies are ready to go - the same puppies as in the photos you were shown on the website. It's no good watching a video of newborns - one can't tell what they will be like when they are grown.


emails and all written correspondance

Don't delete email, WhatsApp chat, or facebook messages from the seller. Keep records.

What time was the message sent? If it was the middle off the night, it may indicate a scammer in another country and another time zone. (or an innocent insomniac!)

Hover your mouse over the "from" field to see who the email is really from. If it's a gmail account, they may be anywhere in the world. Check the wording. Do they use words that one doesn't hear in South Africa? How is the spelling and typing?

The first emails usually ask you questions to see if you will give the puppy a good home. They will assure you they are reputable, honest breeders, not a puppy mill, puppies are guaranteed. They copy this wording off other people's advertisements. Then they pressure you into paying urgently for some reason.

Check your junk mail folder to see if any of their messages are on hold. But remember junk mail is often wrongly filed by robots and could be innocent.


Lies about a vet

If you think it's a scam and they say the puppy has been innoculated, you can ask to see the vet's certificate - both sides - so you can see the name and adddress of the vet, and date of innoculations, or ask the name, address, and phone number of the vet.  But they may copy an innocent vet's details from the internet. If you think it's a scam, you could phone the vet. He will remember if he microchipped & inoculated a whole litter if you give him the date of the visit, which will be on the vet's certificate. The scammer may mention an airport vet who says another inoculation is needed. Do vets have a practice at an airport?

NB genuine breeders may place an advertisement BEFORE the puppy has been inoculated, on the understanding that it WILL be done the age of 6 weeks. It takes time to find suitable homes for puppies, so some breeders place the ad as soon as the pups have been born. There is no vet's certificate yet.

The sick puppy scam

Scammers may say the puppy is ill and they have no money for the vet. Don't fall for it! The breeder must pay the vet and only sell healthy puppies. They are playing on your emotions.


Border fees scam

Sometimes the puppy is free, or cheap, and you just have to pay for transport. The seller says he has had to go to another country on business and had to take the puppy with him as it's too young to leave. The transport costs start rising!

Scammers may claim the puppy is detained at the border. They need clearance money urgently. Ignore it.


Lies about registration

Ask if the puppy is registered. If they say, "Yes," ask WITH WHO is it registered? If it's registered with AKC (American Kennel Club) bear in mind that the puppy would have to be 12 weeks old to be able to fly from USA. What about quarantine?  This website recommends KUSA as a reputable dog registry. KUSA is the Kennel Union of Southern Africa. It is internationally recognised. If you think it's a scam, insist on seeing the parents' registration certificates.  If they try to brush aside your request for a copy of the papers before you pay, it is most certainly a scam. Give them one day to send you copies. They can wait for their money. The breeder's name should be on the mother's certificate.

If they say the puppy is NOT registered, then you shouldn't have to pay thousands of Rands for it. There is no proof that the dog is pure-bred.


Lies about a microchip

Refuse to accept the puppy until it has a microchip implanted. It's usually done by a vet at the age of 6 weeks. Ask for the microchip number and say you want to check it on the data base. In order to be registered with KUSA, the puppy must be microchipped.


Fake testimonials & references

Scamsters can easily get another member of the scam ring to pretend to be a satisfied customer. They can get photos off another website - perhaps one that is overseas that you are unlikely to look at. Google the referee and contact them!

NB, I'd be happy to give a reference for the breeders listed on petsplace.co.za.

Fraudulent bank accounts

Scammers use stolen bank cards, stolen cell phones, stolen ID books, and false names.  They change their name frequently. Google their bank a/c to see if it appears in other ads. When adding a beneficiary on internet banking, make use of any button the bank provides to check the name of the account holder against the account number. Write down the name and account number. If it's not in the scammer's name she may say that the a/c is in her partner or accountant's name. Take note of this red flag! Be suspicious if the a/c is in someone else's name. It may be a stolen a/c.  


Bullying is a tactic of a scammer

When the suspect sees that you are suspicious, she may protest that they are a honest, upstanding, "God-fearing" family. They may send a copy of their ID without your asking for it, which is a scammers' ploy to fool you. The ID is stolen.  Your heart is set on getting this sweet puppy but don't be bullied into paying until you are entirely satisfied that it is wise to do so. If you are in doubt, quickly stop any payment you made to give yourself time to think. Do NOT select "Immediate Payment." Try to make your payment future-dated to give yourself time to cancel it. If possible, transfer the money from a bank that is different from the suspect's as this can take a few days. Once you've paid, the scammer may play for time to make sure the money is in his account, and that he can withdraw it and money-launder it. He doesn't want you phoning the bank just yet. He needs time to take down his advert, which might be on several free classified sites, so he will tell you there is a problem with transport, or something. If he changes the delivery date, STOP PAYMENT and see what happens.


Non-existent Transport Companies

Scammers invent names of pet transport companies and may ask you to pay the transport company direct. The "Transport Company" might be the scammer himself using a different name, or another member of the same puppy scam ring. Phone & see if it's the voice you heard before. Ask for a video call of the van.

To cover up the fact that the puppy is not on its way, they may ask you for another large sum for an air-conditioned, electronic, covid-compliant crate, more vaccine, a Covid Legal Control Permit, or something, which they say they will refund after delivery. Hmmm.... Really? Dogs don't transmit Covid19. There is no such requirement.


If you send your banking details, watch out that they don't ask for your PIN too! they will empty your account. Don't send copies of your ID and driving licence. They will use it to impersonate you.

Cells, bank accounts, and ID numbers used in scams  Check the list before you get caught! Please send me any numbers you come across, to warn others.

Scam websites

Where to report a dog scam