Preying on Puppy Love: Scammers Target Lonely Dog Buyers

With millions of people staying home alone, many are looking for canine companionship -- but instead of cuddles, some are falling victim to scammers.

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Spending extended time at home -- often alone -- has prompted many people to ponder purchasing a puppy. But if you're shopping online for your next four-legged friend, be aware -- many of the puppies you see advertised might be bait set by con artists.

Several NBC Bay Area viewers have told us they were ripped off when they sent money to supposed breeders for a puppy, but got nothing.

Lillian Menezes in Vacaville is among them. She was looking for a west highland terrier, and responded to an online ad offering puppies. Menezes says she sent $2,400 to someone who said they were in Oklahoma, but she hasn't heard from them since.

"I just don’t want this to happen to other people, what happened to me," Menezes said. "It just rips your heart out."

The puppy seller's website is now down. NBC Bay Area called and emailed them, but we did not get a response.

A reverse image search showed the puppy photos the seller sent to Lillian are from a different breeder, in a different state.

Thinking about getting a puppy? Here are the best ways to avoid getting scammed. 

The Better Business Bureau is tracking an uptick in puppy scam complaints. Steven McFarland, CEO of BBB Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, says there is little pro-consumer organizations can do to help victims.

"The recourse for you is non-existent," McFarland said. "The 1-800 numbers they use to call back and give details to -- they’re ghost numbers. So, you’re not going to be able to get your money back.”

If you're looking to buy a puppy, meet the seller in person -- bearing in mind social distancing requirements. Also, be careful using payment apps. They're convenient, but they may not have the same fraud protections as credit cards.

Also, Menezes tells us she clicked on an advertisement she saw online. Instead of a simple internet search, see if your desired breed has a kennel club or association. Other owners might help steer you toward legitimate sellers.

Finally, consider adoption from your local shelter. While some animal shelters have recently enjoyed a welcome surge in interest, there are always many dogs and other pets in need of foster care or permanent homes. Click here to find a shelter near you.

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