Buyer Beware: Avoiding Fraud When Choosing a Pet

As more and more Americans become concerned with the welfare of animals, there are more options than ever for a potential pet owner to find that perfect companion. However, as with any major decision, it is the responsibility of the consumer to ensure that he or she makes the best possible decision before adopting or purchasing. The animal industry has it’s fair share of fraud, cruelty and other illegal activities. Thinking carefully, doing proper research and asking tough questions will help ensure that you don’t get taken advantage of by someone who claims to love animals, but may really have less-honorable intentions. Or someone who has good intentions but lacks the skill or resources to appropriately provide for the animal.

This page will offer you a variety of helpful tips about what you should consider and prepare for prior to buying or adopting any animal. There is also valuable information on questions to ask before you donate money to any organization representing itself as an “animal rescue.” Although this term may conjure up a certain image and credibility among most people, it’s important to remember that not all “animal rescues” are legitimate charitable organizations or are using your money in the way you may desire.

Finally, this page will offer helpful links to other websites that will aid in your research. The Animal Cruelty Taskforce has also created an educational pamphlet entitled BUYER BEWARE: FRAUD AND ANIMAL SALES which can be downloaded by clicking on the link to the right.


Animal ownership should never be an impulsive decision. When you become an animal steward, you assume certain legal and ethical obligations. Make sure you understand what is required of you before you make this decision by checking local and state ordinances, assessing your personal time and financial resources, and making sure that other members of your household are onboard before that pet comes home. As the pet owner, if you can’t provide, then don’t adopt. Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.


Before adopting / buying from any business or agency, check to see if there are any outstanding complaints against them. Organizations like the Better Business can help with this. Do not buy or adopt any animal “sight unseen.” Insist on visiting the seller / adopter’s facility to see the conditions the animal has been living in. If the seller / adopter will not allow you to visit – do not adopt or purchase. If the conditions are poor, report your concerns to law enforcement. If buying from a pet store or for-profit animal vendor, ask to see a complete breeding and medical history on the dog or cat (pet stores are required by law to provide this under Arizona Revised Statute 44-1799.02, the so-called “Puppy Lemon Law.” Humane organizations and animal control shelters are exempt from this law.) See the Laws page for more information.


Anyone can produce an official looking certificate, a phony medical history or a slick website. These are also some of the most common devices used to defraud the public when it comes to animal vending. Follow up the vendor’s claims with research. Do not purchase animals from people selling out of cars, on the side of the street, in parking lots, public parks, swap meets, etc. This practice is now prohibited by state and local ordinance and you should report such vendors to law enforcement. Research non-profit organizations before you adopt from or donate to them. Just because a group calls itself “animal rescue” does not mean it is an incorporated 501(c) 3 charity. Ask yourself questions like: Does the organization have a Board of Directors? Do they publish their financial records and other statistics, including adoption numbers? Do they seem to take in large numbers of animals but adopt out very few? (If so, this is sometimes an indication of a hoarding operation disguising itself as a rescue group.) Independent agencies like Charity Navigator and Guide Star are excellent resources for researching the validity of a charitable organization.


Websites can be deceiving and sometimes deliberately so. As with anything else online, you should be careful about believing a website. Whether its a for-profit or non-profit, a slick website is easy to create and hard to assess for its accuracy. The misrepresentation of animals – a kind of bait-and-switch scam where the animal purchased online is NOT the one you actually receive – is a very common practice on websites. Although websites can be useful for general information, you should never buy or adopt an animal sight-unseen through a website.


Regardless of size, every 501[c] 3 organization must provide upon request:
ICON It’s official letter from the IRS showing they are tax exempt
ICON A copy of the IRS 990 or 990EZ form showing their financial reporting for each year.
 ICON Transparency in financial reporting should be absolute.

If the 501[c]3 organization makes MORE than $20,000 per year, it would also have and be able to produce upon request:
 ICON Audited financial reports. Audits should be by an external and independent accounting agency.
 ICON A Board of Directors and distinct organizational structure.
 ICON If the 501[c]3 is incorporated, it will also need articles of incorporation and bylaws.


Since common diseases like parvo virus and upper respiratory infections have a long incubation period, unscrupulous vendors will often try to unload pets before they break with the illness – and then blame the purchaser for the disease. Written health guarantees are useless unless they describe your recourse in case of illness – such as the return of the animal for a full refund or reimbursement for veterinary expenses. Regardless of what you get in writing, always have a licensed veterinarian examine your new pet fully within 48-hours of purchase or adoption.


Whether you are in the market for a car, a television or a kitten, comparison shopping is always highly recommended. Keep in mind that buying a pet from a pet store or animal vendor will increase your chances of getting an animal that was the product of a puppy mill or backyard breeding operation – at a substantially increased price! If you want to purchase a purebred dog or cat, patronize a reputable breeder. You will probably pay more, but it may be worth it. Likewise, most legitimate rescue organizations will offer the pet at a reasonable fee with basic services provided, including vaccinations and spaying / neutering. Be careful of adopting or purchasing from an organization that offers any animal at a high fee without appropriate documentation or included services. Ask questions. If you don’t get answers you like, go somewhere else.


Many good-hearted people will often purchase a pet they know is sick or imperiled because they want to “save” or “rescue” it. But this mentality just helps the fraudulent seller who ends up getting paid a lot of money for providing a dishonest service. If you are concerned about the animals being offered by a vendor or adoption agency, then don’t buy – REPORT! Denying animals basic care, medical aid or appropriate living spaces are crimes… and the police can affect a rescue much better than you can. Plus, they can also hold the guilty parties responsible and make sure they don’t victimize other animals or people. If you are unsure who to report to, call 911. See the Reporting page for additional information.


Animal welfare laws are designed to protect domesticated and wild species – as well as the pet owner! These laws apply equally to any mammal, reptile, amphibian or bird. Exotic and wild species are not exempt from protection. If you plan to own an exotic animal, make sure you are fully prepared to meet all your animal’s needs.

ICON If you would like to report an act of animal cruelty, go to the nearest phone and call 911. Remember that 911 is an emergency line – and that means animal-related emergencies too! It is important to report the crime quickly and from the general area where the crime occurred.

ICON When making your call, it is helpful to know who, what, where, why, when and how. Under most circumstances, 911 will require you to leave your contact information. Although many reportees wish to remain anonymous, it is important to know that these kinds of reports often cannot be handled as successfully by the police. If you care about stopping cruelty, be prepared to go on record!

ICON Remember, the authorities are unable to stop cruelty and neglect of animals if they are unaware of it – report it!

See the Reporting page for additional information.