Buying a puppy in Australia: Sydney start-up PETspot finds way to stop pet scams


She knew something was wrong when she saw the dog’s eyes. Then more scammers came trying to rip her off thousands.

A NSW woman is warning aspiring pet owners of what to watch out for after falling for a puppy scam and nearly losing another $2500 to the “dodgy b*stards” running a second con.

Brigid Kennedy, from the NSW Southern Highlands, was duped several years ago after buying a dog on online marketplace Gumtree.

Although she paid for a purebred border collie, after receiving the pup, she realised she had been deceived. It had mismatched eyes and did not behave on her farm as a normal farm dog should, indicating it was a mixed breed.

She had to re-home the dog last year because it became aggressive towards children and was on the hunt for a new puppy to fill the gap in her and her husband’s life.

In May, she sought out a new puppy and found a breeder but they only communicated via text which felt “dodgy” and “impersonal”.

The ‘breeder’ demanded $2500 upfront before Ms Kennedy could receive the dog. Against the backdrop of Covid-19 lockdowns, she wasn’t even able to visit the breeder’s place.

“I didn’t know where to turn, it was really hard,” she told “How can you be sure of quid pro quo when they want the money before they send the dog?”

Ms Kennedy pulled the pin on the purchase and believes she narrowly missed out on a scam.

Ms Kennedy’s near-miss comes as demand for pets has soared over the past 18 months following lockdowns and border closures where some people aren’t able to see friends and family as much as they used to.

So far this year, as of September 30, there have been 2544 reports of pet scams with losses totalling more than $3 million.

That’s compared with 2252 reports from last year with financial losses of $2.2 million and then just 498 complaints back in 2019.

The most common dog breeds that are targeted are cavoodles and French bulldogs.

Delia Rickard, Deputy Chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which runs Scamwatch, said puppy cons had flourished in the era of Covid-19.

“A lot of people are stuck at home and going online to buy a pet to help them get through the loneliness of social isolation,” she previously said.

“Unfortunately the rush to get a new pet and the unusual circumstances of Covid-19 makes it harder to work out what’s real or a scam.

“Once you have paid the initial deposit, the scammer will find new ways to ask for more money, and scammers are now using the Covid-19 pandemic to claim higher transportation costs to get across closed interstate borders or additional fees for ‘coronavirus treatments’j.

“Unfortunately once you make the payments, the seller will cease all contact.”

Ms Kennedy did end up finding the perfect puppy in time for her husband’s birthday in July, thanks to a new Australian start-up called PETspot aiming to legitimise the pet industry.

Ms Kennedy was able to find a safe breeder through PETspot, a start-up run by three students from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) that allows safe pet transactions to take place through their platform.

PETspot works by independently verifying breeders on the platform and then guaranteeing the buyer’s money once a payment is made.

If the breeder is a scammer, PETspot will reimburse the customer.

They’re confident enough to provide that guarantee because of the rigorous checks and balances they have in place before a breeder is allowed to list themselves on their website.

“There are just folk out there taking advantage and it’s absolutely shocking,” Ms Kennedy said.

“If technology can protect us from some of these dodgy b*stards, then that’s great.

“I like the idea of everything being safer and giving these young people (at PETspot) a go.”

She ended up buying a purebred border collie puppy for $1500 through the platform — $1000 less than the potential scammer had wanted from her.

Nick Figliano, the 23-year-old co-founder of PETspot, told that he came up with the idea for the company after he too was very nearly scammed out of thousands of dollars.

When he was 20, Mr Figliano wanted to buy a dog for the family but came into contact with a con artist instead.

“Someone was online pretending to have this amazing breeder, (they) looked responsible,” he told

But he soon noticed “a couple of red flags” such as registration numbers not adding up and the so-called breeder demanding he pay in full before he could even meet the puppy.

When he did a reverse image search, he found the exact same picture on Google, indicating the puppy didn’t exist.

“Luckily I worked that out before sending any money over. Many others aren’t so lucky,” he said.

Realising this was something consumers wanted, Mr Figliano teamed up with two of his mates, Joseph Commisso and Jeremy Lay, to start their own business.

They were a match made in heaven as “Joseph had the tech background, I had a business background and Jeremy had a pet background (because) his first cousin was a vet”, he added.

Although they started PETspot before Covid-19, it’s taken off in the last 18 months.

There are 200 authenticated breeders on the website and to date, $3 million dollars worth of dogs and puppies have gone through the platform and found a home.

The average price for a dog purchase is $4000, meaning they’ve had more than 700 transactions.

PETspot is economically viable because they charge a three to five per cent fee if you choose to buy the dog through PETspot Pay, which is where the company guarantees your money.

If you don’t want to pay an extra five per cent, you can still use the platform for free.

The money is “going through a middleman — PETspot — that provides you protection if things go wrong,” Mr Figliano said.

“The reason we’re so confident about wearing that cost, is because to list on the site, you must pass our verification process.”

They’ve created a strenuous code of ethics to fact-check dog breeders, which includes providing proof of registration with regulatory bodies, showing health tests of the litter of puppies, then a manual review that involves doing a virtual inspection of the property and also an identity check.

“We’ve created Australia’s first payment system that is built specifically for pets,” Mr Figliano added.

“The industry is cash-based, there’s no payment system that covers you for pet scams” — until now.

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