Looking for a Rescue Dog? Here’s How to Avoid Scams

Scammers seem to have infiltrated almost every area of modern life, and sadly, some are even posing as dog rescues. Here are seven ways to avoid being scammed when adopting a rescue dog.

Scams are commonplace nowadays. From weird text messages to phony demands for account information, we’ve learned to just press “delete”. But when scammers pose as dog rescues, it’s easy to fall into their trap, especially if they’ve posted an adorable dog photo accompanied by a heartbreaking story. It’s a ploy to tug at your heartstrings — and your pocketbook — so it’s important to be able to tell what’s fake and what’s not. Here are seven tips to avoid falling for a rescue scam.


If you’re looking to adopt a rescue dog, get a referral from your veterinarian, groomer, a friend or co-worker. Many veterinarians are actively involved in animal rescue, or know people who are, and can refer you to an honest organization.

“In the 20 years I’ve been in rescue, I’ve seen the number of scammers increase tenfold,” says Cathy Crocket of PAWS of Dale Hollow Rescue in Tennessee. “Adopters must practice due diligence when it comes to adopting a dog (or cat). It’s easy to fall into a trap because these people know just how to pull at your heartstrings.”


Guidestar.org is an informational database of non-profits in the US. Although it reports on many types of organizations, it can be a valuable information service for potential adopters, offering contact information, financial reports, and even customer reviews.

“They publish the good, the bad, and the ugly,” says Cathy, “so they’re an excellent place to start your search.”

Those in Canada can find similar information about non-profits through the Canada Revenue Agency’s charity information page.


Many trustworthy rescues use Facebook to reach a wider audience. It’s a great platform for posting fundraising events, sharing success stories, and interacting with former and potential adopters. Unfortunately, it’s also a great platform for scammers. With a little practice, however, you can spot the fake Facebook account:

  • The page will look static, as if nothing much is happening.
  • If you scroll down, the page might end abruptly, indicating that it’s fairly recent.
  • It may have inconsistent content, or very few comments on posts.
  • Profile photos are often copied and pasted from other sites.
  • The About section may list a URL that doesn’t work when you paste it in your browser. Or you may see misspellings, along with inconsistent or limited information on the About page.


If the rescue offers only purebred puppies or designer dogs, it may be a puppy mill posing as a rescue. There’s a name for this — it’s called “puppy laundering.” In March 2019, Iowa’s Attorney General brought a case against several puppy mill dealers who were selling their puppies as rescues. They made 250 shipments of puppies and hundreds of thousands of dollars before they were shut down. Many rescues are breed specific, of course, but they won’t have an unlimited supply of purebred pups.


Scammers place time pressures on adopters, especially when it comes to money. Conversely, legitimate rescues often ask for a small fee to process your application, but won’t pressure you to send money, nor will they threaten to “give” the dog to someone else because you’re not following their demands.

“A legitimate rescue will have a consistent and very specific adoption process,” says Cathy. “They’ll ask for and check your references. Many also do background checks. We recommend you alert your references to let them know they’ll be getting a call — if no one contacts them, that can be a red flag.”


Scammers are masters at persuading you to let your guard down, often by acting warm and friendly. Never share financial information with anyone online, and pay only through trusted sites like PayPal, or with a credit card that will protect you from fraud.

Stay away from bank transfers. This is a common and easy way for scammers to take your money, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve it.


Most rescue scams go unreported because victims feel embarrassed. Scammers rely on this, but reporting them can protect others and help keep rescue funds where they belong — with honest rescues.

You can report fraud to the Better Business Bureau, your state’s Consumer Protection Agency, or the National Consumers League. In Canada, scams can be reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Adopting a dog from a rescue is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. And there are lots of wonderful and reputable rescue organizations out there who can help you find your new best friend. Learning how to recognize and steer clear of the scammers will ensure your dog adoption experience is what it should be — exciting and rewarding!

Karen Elizabeth Baril is a guest pet blogger, author, and magazine writer. Her work has appeared in numerous equine and animal market publications. She lives on her farm in the northwestern hills of Connecticut with her three horses, two dogs, and whatever animals may trundle through during the night. Visit her at karenelizabethbaril.com.


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