How to Protect Yourself from Online Puppy Scams

Buying a dog or puppy online can be difficult to navigate – especially with fraudulent websites posing as legitimate dog breeders. Here are tips to protect yourself and avoid online puppy scams. We’ll also give suggestions for finding a reputable breeder whether you’re adopting a Mi-Ki or any other dog breed.

Cheap puppies are almost always puppy scams

The first red flag to look for when searching for your next pet is whether or not their pricing is in line with the going rate within reputable breeders of your chosen breed. For Mi-Kis, the price range will run from about $2,800 – $3,600. Breeding rights will add to the price an additional $1,000 – $1,500.

For instance, if you’ve been looking for a French Bulldog puppy that’s less than $3,000, it’s not likely coming from someone who actually bred the dog or at least someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. Since the vast majority of bulldogs are delivered by C-section (a surgery that will likely cost the breeder well over $3,000) you can easily figure out that the breeder will lose money if they are only getting a few puppies out of a litter.

Even if a puppy was not delivered via C-section, an underpriced puppy reflects that the breeder is cutting corners either on health testing, subpar food, vaccinations, or the general care of the dogs in their kennel. With the prices of everything pet-related going up – veterinary costs, genetic testing, health tests, pet food, grooming, etc., the prices of puppies are also going up.

Sometimes you’ll find a less expensive puppy from a backyard breeder who purposely bred their pets without breeding rights. Because of this, they cannot furnish you with registration papers for the puppy. These folks have not tested the parents for the recommended health panels, and probably don’t know anything about the breed standard. They are not breeding to improve their breed. They are simply breeding to make money.

Usually, a cheap puppy was either stolen or might not even be in the possession of the person claiming to sell the puppy. Fortunately, no one has stolen a puppy from me in real life, but people have stolen my puppy photos and tried to sell puppies online with my images to unsuspecting buyers.

Recently, someone tried to pose as a puppy buyer through social media from an account they had hacked and asked me to send them a copy of my breeding license. No doubt they planned to forge the information to replicate their own dog breeding website. The true account owner informed me she had been hacked and did not request the information.

There is one exception for finding a discounted puppy through a legitimate breeder. This happens when a breeder is aware of a severe fault, a temperament issue, a congenital anomaly, or health consideration with a particular puppy or adult. Breeders will sometimes discount a dog in these circumstances or even offer the dog for free with the understanding that the savings will be put towards the pup’s veterinary care or specialized training. Most breeders aren’t just trying to unload a “problem” puppy, but they know a family with fewer dogs to care for will offer a special-needs pup the individualized care he or she needs.

Inconsistent Puppy Photography

When you’re looking at a breeder’s website, do the images they supply look like a collection of photos stolen from all over the internet? Do the puppies and dogs on the site look remotely related to each other? Do some photos look like stock photos from Shutterstock while others look like they were swiped from someone’s social media post?

How about the environment where the puppies are photographed? Do some of the available puppies look like they live in the tropics while others live on a farm in the Midwest? Of course, if these are client-supplied testimonial photos, there will be differences. Does the photography background give clues about the cleanliness of where the puppies are being kept?

Don’t just look to see if the puppies are cute – see if there are consistencies between the dogs, the photography style, and the settings they are pictured in. If you’ve spent a good amount of time on a breeder’s website, you’ll start to get to know the breeder’s dogs and get a feel for their puppies. You might even see age progressions to further verify that these are dogs that the breeder is well acquainted with instead of just a random conglomeration of dog photos used to create an online brochure.

If you’re suspicious that the puppy and dog photos on a particular website might have been stolen, you can right-click on each image and ask the browser to search for the image elsewhere on the Internet (i.e., Google lens, etc.) If you find the photo appearing in multiple places or on another breeder’s website, it’s a fake website that is selling you dogs they don’t actually have. If you see any of my photos on other websites (other than my listing on or ones I’ve supplied to the American Mi-Ki Club,, or the future American Mi-Ki Registry Association website) please let me know!

Overly Consistent Puppy Photography

I’ve been on some puppy websites that have dozens of puppies of all different breeds and “designer mixes” posed on the exact same background. This might be aesthetically pleasing, but this is a red flag that you are looking at a puppy mill or a puppy broker that gets puppies from several breeders to sell in a warehouse-type setting. Some of these dogs are shipped from overseas.

The establishment might have appropriate licensing or not, but you can be sure that this is a very stressful situation for a young puppy. The puppies may come with a health guarantee (which you’ll likely pay extra for) but that stressed puppy has most likely been exposed to a lot of other dogs, has been over or under-vaccinated, and has a high risk of disease.

These websites that feature hundreds of puppies that are available at all times almost never show any photographs of the parents. Sometimes these sites are just a directory of hundreds of different breeders, but it is difficult to know if the breeding dogs are well cared for, let alone loved.

Look at the Testimonials

I had a friend ask me to look at a golden retriever seller’s website as she had some concerns that the operation might not be genuine. As outlined above, the prices seemed too good to be true, the responses via email seemed canned, and the ones that weren’t had broken English.

I noted that the puppy photos looked suspicious because the dogs didn’t look related. I used the right-click trick and found the dog and puppy photos came from all over the Internet.

The most damning indicator of this being a fraudulent website was the testimonials page of glowing pet owners. One of the images was a picture of a woman in business attire supposedly from my area, and I thought, “Women around here don’t look or dress like that.” Another image looked like a professional headshot of a man. Sure enough, a right-click revealed that the image was stolen from the book jacket of an author of a popular motivational book!

If you are looking at reviews supplied by the breeder, do they feel authentic and diverse? Or do they sound like the same author wrote them?

If you’re looking at online reviews, do they look like they were created by solicited friends and family members that are overly glowing, have really poor grammar/broken English, or have other red flags? If there are negative reviews, did the breeder respond with grace and tact?

If you’ve left us a review either by email or on Google, thank you!

Is there a Cart Checkout or Deposit Link?

Most breeders care about the type of home their puppies are going to. Therefore, they will screen buyers before they allow clients to place a deposit. If you are able to make a payment on the website for the puppy or a deposit without actually contacting the breeder, you should probably shop elsewhere.

deposits without an application could be puppy scams

Is the Breeder Accessible by Phone or In-Home Visits?

There are legitimate reasons breeders have concerns with people visiting their homes such as disease exposure for both humans and dogs (i.e., COVID or parvo.) But even during the height of COVID, we had visitors outside on our porch while wearing masks so people would feel comfortable with us, our puppies, and could actually see the parents of our puppies and get a feel for their temperaments and possible development. Thankfully, people can now visit with us indoors.

If people can’t remove their shoes or prefer not to, we have shoe covers available to ensure our unvaccinated puppies stay safe. Hand sanitizer is also available if people have visited other dogs or kennels recently.

Breeders may be nervous about theft and may prefer not to meet at their homes. They may worry that their home isn’t fancy and prefer their privacy. That is their choice. But every breeder should be accessible by phone. They should be able to do video calls to show the puppies and their mothers. The pandemic taught us all how to do Zoom meetings, and these technologies are great for out-of-state buyers.

Do they offer paperwork from a reputable registry with DNA-verified parents?

The main Mi-Ki registries – the American Mi-Ki Registry Association and International Mi-Ki Registry -require DNA-verified proof of parentage before the litters can be registered. Some breeders hold papers on pet contracts until there is proof of spay or neutering, but they should at least be able to give you the certificates from the DNA laboratory that shows who the puppies’ parents are and that their parents are certified through the Mi-Ki registry. If not, your Mi-Ki is either not a real Mi-Ki or was bred from pet-quality dogs that did not receive breeding rights from the original breeder.

Can the breeder offer proof of parental health testing and/or DNA screens?

The recommended health tests to be performed on breeding Mi-Kis include a cardiac exam, patella exam, and an ophthalmology exam. We go a step further and also do Embark and/or Wisdom Panel testing on our breeding dogs. Someday, we hope to offer genetic testing on all of our Mi-Ki puppies as well if the technology gets faster and more cost-effective.

Ask for Referrals

If your friends had a great experience with a breeder, consider working with that same breeder. If you are interested in a breeder you haven’t previously worked with, ask the breeder for referrals of former clients who wouldn’t mind being contacted. If a breeder doesn’t have what you’re looking for in a puppy, a good breeder is likely in contact with other good breeders in the community who will happily refer you to someone else.

Trust Your Gut

If something feels off when you’re interacting with someone selling a puppy, trust your instincts. It may be a simple personality clash where you might mesh better with another breeder. But sometimes, you might be getting scammed.

Let us know if you have seen other clues for suspicious dog breeding sites. I’m sure we’ve missed some details to share.

We’re not perfect, but we do strive to help people find the Mi-Ki puppy that they have dreamed of – even if it’s through a referral to another breeder. We believe this is a wonderful breed that the world should experience more of, especially in these trying times. Everyone needs love, companionship, and puppy kisses!

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