Nova Scotia

Families bilked in puppy scam, says Better Business Bureau

Each person said they had wired between $400 and $500 through Western Union for a "shipping fee" for the dog. But they got nothing for their money.

Scammers claimed to be based in Halifax, but could have been anywhere in the world

Several dog breeds were offered in the puppy scam, including Jack Russell terriers. This Jack Russell terrier posed for a photo during the casting for an NBC show about dogs and their owners in 2005 in New York City. (Paul Hawthorne/Getty)

The Better Business Bureau is warning people shopping for a new puppy to be aware of a potential fraudster claiming to offer a free puppy to a good home. 

"It does seem to be affecting people from all across Canada," said Kristin Matthews, who investigated the puppy scam for BBB Atlantic over the course of several months in the fall.

Matthews said she received five or six reports from people in regions including Toronto, Alberta, and New Brunswick. 

Each person said they had wired between $400 and $500 through Western Union for a "shipping fee" for the dog. None received anything in return and none has been able to recover money.

Matthews said it's possible there may be many more people who were deceived by the ads, which were posted on sites such as Kijiji and E-Classifieds. 

"We actually went on a classified site where we saw multiple postings, about 15 different ones, for golden doodles, Rottweilers — tons of different puppies from the exact same seller with the exact same story saying that their family member was ill and they were looking to re-home these puppies," Matthews said.

Kristin Matthews investigated the puppy scam for the Better Business Bureau Atlantic. (CBC)

"They had about 15 different listings and they weren't a breeder. They were just selling on behalf of an ill family member. So that was a big red flag for us."

The scammers claimed to be based at one of two Halifax addresses, which turned out to have nothing to do with a puppy-raising business. One was a residential address and the other was the Halifax airport. 

Matthews said people can expose such scams with several types of checks. 

  • Use reverse image searches on the photos of the dogs. If the same photo has been used anywhere else, that's likely an indication of a fake
  • Arrange to inspect the pet in person
  • Raise red flags if the seller insists on a specific shipping company or on receiving payment through a method such as wire transfer

Halifax Regional Police said they have received similar complaints in the past, but on further investigation they found the suspects were not local, and so passed the investigation on to the jurisdictions where they believe the scammers could be found. Halifax police do not currently have any puppy fraud investigations underway. 

Matthews said the company offering the dogs has since removed its ads. She was able to trace the IP address of the advertisements to Southeast Asia, but said since it's relatively easy to mask the location of an IP address the true scammers could be based anywhere in the world. 

She sees the same type of fraud used with many types of consumer items besides animals, but she noted that photos of puppies are particularly good at manipulating people's emotions. 

"They said that they were looking for a puppy for their children for birthdays, for the holidays," Matthews said. 

"Once the buyer actually paid the seller they were never heard from again. And we think that is because the puppies never existed." 

now