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Since 2017, allegations of online pet scams have increased by 37%, according to a report released last week by the Better Business Bureau.

During the holiday season people are particularly vulnerable — pets are a popular gift. Deceptive advertisements can swindle your family out of money and prevent you from bringing home a healthy, happy and furry family member.

To combat fraud, buyers should brush up on how to tell the difference between responsible, authentic breeders and scammers.

Over the last three years, more than 16,000 cases of pet scams have been reported to the Better Business Bureau, with hundreds more estimated to occur this month. For cases of fraud involving dogs or puppies, roughly six in 10 involve people who paid for an animal which they never received. Others received pets that had health or genetic problems. And some that did get a healthy animal never received the proper documentation for their pet.

While we always encourage people to look to their local shelters and rescues, we know that roughly a quarter of new pet parents obtain their puppies from breeders. If you do choose to obtain a puppy from a breeder, you should make sure you have ways to know that the organization you use to find your new best friend is legitimate and will secure you a happy, healthy, and responsibly bred pet.

First and foremost, find a source you can trust. This may seem self-evident, but it can be difficult to parse out the scammers from the good actors. Consider that an astounding eight in 10 sponsored pet advertisements online may be fake. 

This means you shouldn't be swayed by a fancy website or puppy photos that look like stock photos, are perfectly posed, don’t look real or are found on multiple websites. Pictures of the same puppy appearing across multiple sites may be a sign of fraud. 

If the price associated with a puppy is too good to be true, it generally is. People should avoid buying from a company that says they will transport a dog to them by air if the full purchase price seems to be less than or similar to the price of a flight. When it comes to money, never wire funds to anyone you have only met online and avoid major money wiring companies and mobile payment service apps.

When communicating with a seller, be sensitive to strange language choices. The vast majority of scammers are from foreign countries.

Scammers often come up with complicated reasons for why they need immediate wire transfers or can’t deliver the puppy to you based on current events.

A responsible breeder, shelter or rescue organization will provide registration, vaccination and veterinary health records on request. Refusal to supply medical records or pedigree documentation is a red flag.

Welcoming a new pet into your family during the holidays is a wonderful way to give the gift of love, teach kids responsibility and empathy, and even reduce stress. Whenever and for whatever reason you decide to bring home a puppy, do so in a way that protects you and the pet and makes the arrival of your new best friend all the more joyous.

Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., is the president and CEO of American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization and the world’s largest certifier of animal welfare.

Jonathan Cherins is the CEO of PuppySpot, a placement service committed to helping responsible breeders place healthy, happy puppies with caring individuals and families.

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