Safe Purchasing

Key Points

Follow the advice in this document to ensure a great experience when buying animals. This applies not just to MorphMarket but buying anywhere online. It can also be helpful when buying in person at expos or stores.

  • Buy from those with known reputation, especially if you are new to the hobby. This is the most fool-proof way to avoid being scammed.
  • Consider many factors collectively when evaluating reputation and risk. Our site provides valuable information for this process.
  • Use credit cards for payment which provide the best balance of protection for both parties.
  • Expect and provide clear, regular communication.
  • Document the arrival of your new animal and notify the seller in writing immediately of any concerns.

MorphMarket’s Role

Understanding MorphMarket’s role will help you better understand how to set yourself up for success.

  • We provide education to help our users make informed decisions. We can't force our users to read these documents, but we put a lot of time and energy into creating them and making them available for all.
  • We provide tools to help buyers evaluate the trust-level of sellers, such as our Ratings System, checklists, badges, new seller flags, and links to outside resources.
  • We require sellers to show their full legal name or entity and verify that with an official ID.
  • We investigate complaints immediately.
  • We moderate many issues which are detailed in our Moderation Policies including disputes between buyers and sellers.
  • We suppress sellers (and buyers) as soon as they have been proven to be deliberately dishonest.
  • We have processes in place to keep banned users off the site.
  • We enthusiastically support authorities by providing relevant information; however this process must be initiated by the defrauded party.

Since your payment goes directly to the seller, there are limits to what we can do:

  • We cannot guarantee that a transaction will turn out as expected.
  • We cannot get your money back. Sending any money to a seller is done so at your own risk.
  • We do not ban sellers or buyers just because someone says they're "bad". We must have evidence to back up any accusation before we take action

We are very sympathetic to those who are taken advantage of. In the case of a dispute with a legitimate seller, we are often successful in convincing the seller to make things right with an unhappy customer. But in cases of true fraud, there is nothing we can do to get your money back.

How to Mitigate Risks

If you are a new buyer, we recommend buying from a seller with a proven reputation.

This is the best and closest thing to a “fool-proof” way to avoid being scammed. With some experience, you will develop more discernment which will allow you to more safely expand your set of options. For more information, read below on Researching Sellers.

Make sure you fully understand the agreement you are entering into with the seller when you send an inquiry. This agreement is defined by three parts:

  • Seller Store Policy
    • Every agreement between a buyer and seller starts with the seller's Store Policy as it is written on their MorphMarket Seller Profile.
    • Sellers are allowed to customize their policy, so Terms and Conditions may change from one seller to the next. Make sure you check each seller’s policy!
    • Buyers agree to abide by that policy by checking a box when you send an inquiry through our site.
  • Prior Written Agreement
    • It’s possible and quite acceptable for the two parties to come to an agreement that overrides or is in addition to the existing Store Policy.
      • This is usually done in the negotiation process after the initial inquiry, but before any money has changed hands.
      • This kind of agreement must be clearly laid out in written communication prior to the exchange of money.
  • MorphMarket Default Store Policy
    • If the seller's store policy is silent or vague on a particular point that is central to the current dispute, we will refer to the Default Policy.

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is to use a Credit or Debit Card to make your purchase. In general, we do not recommend using an unprotected service such as PayPal Friends & Family (F&F), Zelle, etc., unless you are very confident in the seller; however you can get similar protection by backing these up with a credit/debit card. For more details read the section below on Payment Methods.

Here are other steps you can take to lower your risk of getting scammed.

  • Study all of the MorphMarket documents on this subject
  • Study your market
    • Understand the genetics involved and how to recognize seller error or potential fraud
    • Be familiar with market prices
    • Most of the animals in our marketplace are captive bred, but not all. Understand the differences between "wild caught," "imported," "self produced," and "domestically produced"
      • Wild Caught - the animal for sale was born and captured in the wild, it may or may not have been imported, depending on its origin and the country it’s being sold in
      • Imported - the animal for sale was likely hatched in a “farm” in its native country and then shipped to other countries for sale in the pet trade. This kind of “farm” typically involves capturing gravid females from the wild and selling the offspring to exporters. An “imported” animal might also be Wild Caught.
      • Self Produced - the animal was captive bred by the person selling it
      • Domestically Produced - the animal was captive bred, but not by the person selling it
  • Keep all communication and negotiations within the MorphMarket Inquiry System
  • Keep all communications in a written format that can be saved and shared as evidence if necessary
  • Clearly communicate your expectations

Before the Transaction

The most important step is avoiding a problem in the first place before money is sent. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Research the Seller

Before ever making an inquiry, visit the seller's Store Page and consider these factors:

  • How long has their store been on MorphMarket as indicated by the Joined Date?
    • Just because a seller is new to MorphMarket does not mean they are untrustworthy. Furthermore, some new sellers on MorphMarket have actually been in the hobby for many years.
    • However, sellers without a track-record are more difficult to assess, especially for buyers who are new to the hobby.
    • Asking for references or previous buyers willing to discuss their purchase experience is a one way to build trust and determine if they are new to our site or actually new to the hobby.
    • Sellers who are actually new to the hobby may be honest, but having less experience may lead to mistakes in husbandry/care for their animals, morph or sex identification, or safe shipping practices.
  • What are their MorphMarket Ratings?
    • How many positive vs negative ratings have been recorded?
    • How do they score in the detailed ratings categories?
    • What kind of written feedback have buyers left?
  • Do they have a paid membership subscription?
    • This is not required for a seller to be well-known and trusted in their field, but many will have a paid membership.
    • This is also not proof that the seller is a "good guy," but it's less common for true scammers to pay anything extra to run their scams.
  • Are they active on MorphMarket’s Community Forums? This is a great way to see a seller’s husbandry, business ethics and likely pictures of the animal you are thinking of buying and its parents.
  • Is their store linked to social media pages?
    • How active is their social media?
    • How many followers do they have?
  • Is their store linked to a website?
    • How well-developed is it?
    • Does it appear to be up-to-date with current inventory?
    • Does the inventory and prices listed on the website line up (generally speaking) what is being offered on MorphMarket?
    • Do they have marketing materials like official logos and swag? This can prove that the seller is committed to their brand.
    • Do they show pictures of their facility?
  • Other sites
    • Can you find any mention of them in social media, such as the Herpetoculture Feedback and Inquiry and Feedback and Inquiry groups on Facebook. Use the "Search this group" function, or ask about a seller.
    • If they are not established on MorphMarket, does a Google Search indicate any web presence at all?
  • How many followers do they have on MorphMarket?
    • "Followers" is a relatively new feature on MorphMarket, so a small number is not a bad sign, but a large number indicates a well-known and popular seller.
    • This feature is only available for paid members.

Evaluate the Ads

  • Is the price reasonable for what's being offered?
    • Prices that are too good to be true often are.
    • Also remember the saying, "You get what you pay for." Part of what you are purchasing is customer service.
  • Does the picture have a business logo/watermark on it?
    • Does it match the seller's?
  • Do the trait tags match the animal pictured?
  • Do species, size, and age seem to match between what is claimed and what is pictured?
  • Does the animal look healthy?
    • Not too skinny
    • Not too young (Animals should be reasonably established before being sold)
    • No stuck shed
    • Bright eyes
    • Well-formed limbs and tails
    • No kinks or other deformities
  • Compare with other ads from the same seller
    • Do all the photos look like they're being taken in the same facility by the same photographer?
    • Does the quality of animals look consistent across all the ads?
  • Does the seller communicate in such a way that demonstrates personal knowledge and understanding of the animal(s) they are selling?
    • Scammers often don't know the hobby very well and may make mistakes that are obvious to experienced enthusiasts.
    • Check descriptions, "About" section, and Store Policy
    • Facts and details in their other ads
  • Does using Google reverse image search on an ad’s picture bring you to ads by other sellers?

Evaluate the Store Policy

Anytime you send an Inquiry to a seller, you are required to indicate that you have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions laid out in their Store Policy (or in the MorphMarket Default Policy in aspects that are not in the seller’s policy).

  • A seller’s Store Policy can be found on their store page and on every ad they place.
  • At the bottom of every seller's Store Policy is a link to the MorphMarket Default Policy.
    • This policy applies if the seller does not have their own written, and/or if their written policy has gaps around specific points that need to be understood.
  • The terms on these policies can be adjusted only if both parties agree in writing prior to the purchase being made.

It is important that you understand all the terms you are agreeing to.

  • What kind of payment options do they accept?
    • Look for payment options that allow for some buyer protection.
    • Don’t allow yourself to be coerced into using a payment method you’re not comfortable with.
  • Do they allow payment plans? On what terms?
  • How much of your purchase is deposit? Deposits are usually non-refundable.
  • Under what circumstances would you be due a 100% refund?
  • Who accepts responsibility for the risk of shipping?
    • What happens if the animal dies in transit and it's no one's fault? Someone will bear the responsibility in that rare event. Will it be the buyer or the seller? This can be addressed with shipping insurance.
  • What guarantees do they offer on health or sex?

Look for Red Flags

Keep an eye out for warning signs. While most of these are not significant on their own, the accumulation of these factors indicate an increased risk.

  • Price too good to be true.
  • New seller with no history is selling high-end animals.
  • "About" section and Store Policy section of Seller Profile not filled out or scant.
  • No other online presence (no social media or websites listed).
  • Seller insists on communicating outside the MorphMarket Inquiry system.
  • Seller insists on PayPal Friends & Family or other equally insecure cash-based payment methods.
  • Pressure or urgency to buy.
  • Seller suggests non-standard shipping method.
    • In the US and Canada, the standard for shipping almost all reptiles is via FedEx (sometimes UPS) Priority Overnight.
      • Venomous snakes and very large animals must be shipped via airline services such as Delta Dash.
      • USPS is NOT an acceptable method for shipping live animals.
    • Insurance MIGHT be available at the time the label is purchased and needs to be agreed on before shipping arrangements are made. Cost for this kind of insurance is typically around $2.50 per $100 worth of coverage.
    • Needing some “shipping agent” to contact the buyer to make arrangements is a huge red flag, as is asking for additional shipping costs for things like “care of the animal,” “transport papers,” “legal documents,” high cost “insurance,” “security deposits,” etc.
    • European shipments rely on private couriers, so some additional communication with the courier service may be required, but many of the same cautions listed above should apply.
    • Import/export situations will require additional costs and unique shipping arrangements and should be done only by experienced buyers and/or through a known and trusted agent.
  • Errors in the ad (wrong tags, unrealistic age/weight/size numbers). Scammers often utilize popular or colorful morphs but often lack the understanding or ability to recognize other morphs or combos present in the animal pictures they steal.
  • Using someone else's photos in the ad(s) is a big red flag.
  • Seller is unwilling to send additional pictures.
    • It’s not uncommon for legitimate sellers to refuse to take additional pictures because it takes time out of their busy day and that time may not be worth the small chance of the effort resulting in a sale.
    • Breeders without an established reputation should be more willing to take an extra picture.
    • If requesting an extra photo, this should be the very last step before you purchase.
    • Make sure it's the exact same animal by looking for specific patterns. You could request a picture of the reptile from the same angle, sitting on top of their business card or a piece of paper with your name on it.
  • Multiple negative ratings, especially if they are similar complaints.
  • Poor communication skills.
    • You could ask to have a phone conversation with them. Ask them a couple of questions about the animals they are selling to test their knowledge.

During the Transaction

What you Should Expect from the Seller

This is a summary of our document on Buyer Expectations:

  • Consistent, regular communication
    • This does not mean sellers will reply the instant you write. Most of them have jobs and other responsibilities. Allow at least 24 hours.
  • Professional demeanor
    • By this, we mean polite and respectful.
    • Not everyone is skilled at written communication and not everyone has strong "people skills", but true abuse and foul language is against our Terms of Service.
  • Healthy animals exactly as represented in the ad.
  • Prompt shipping arrangements after payment has been made.
    • Weather or national emergencies may delay shipping, but the seller should stay in touch and give clear communication about what's going on and when it will be reasonable to ship.
  • Sellers should abide by all the conditions of their own Store Policy, and the MorphMarket Default Policy where necessary.
  • Sellers MUST abide by MorphMarkets Rules and Guidelines.

Payment Methods

Sellers choose which payment methods they wish to work with. If they will not offer a form of payment that you are comfortable with, we recommend purchasing from a different seller.

We generally feel that Credit Cards offer the best protection for all parties.

The list below is not exhaustive; these are simply the most commonly used methods at this time. Some of these services are listed as Not Recommended only because they offer little or no chance of getting money back in the case of fraud or a deal gone bad.

  • It is okay if sellers and buyers agree to use one of these Not Recommended services, however, if a seller INSISTS on using ONLY these services and gives the buyer no option to protect themselves, that could be seen as a Red Flag.
  • Legitimate sellers sometimes only accept Not Recommended options when working with unknown buyers because it reduces the risk on their side. We suggest that buyers only use this kind of payment method if the seller has a strong, positive reputation.
Payment Methods: Recommended
  • Credit or Debit Card
    • Seller may accept credit or debit cards through a variety of services
      • Square, Stripe and Authorize.net are the most common
    • Invoice emailed to you so you pay with your own credit or debit card
    • Buyer/purchase protection is provided by your bank or credit card
  • Cash App*
    • We recommend Cash App only if it is connected to your credit or debit card, in which case the card can provide buyer protection
    • Money sent directly from your bank through Cash App is unprotected and not recommended
Payment Methods: Neutral Recommendation
  • PayPal Goods & Services (G&S)
    • PayPal is commonly used, but we have downgraded it due to a pattern of PayPal freezing seller accounts. For this reason many sellers no longer use PayPal.
    • Payments may be made through your PayPal balance, your bank, or an attached credit card
      • A credit card may offer the strongest protection, acting as a backup option to report fraud if a PayPal dispute does not work
    • Strong buyer/purchase protection offered through PayPal
    • Buyer/purchase protection may also be offered through your bank or credit card if used in the transaction
Payment Methods: Not Recommended
  • PayPal Friends & Family (F&F)
    • It is against PayPal TOS to use F&F to purchase goods or services. It is unlikely that you are either friends or family with the seller.
    • Offers little-to-no protection for the buyer.
  • Zelle
    • Bank-to-bank instant transfers
    • May not be attached to a credit card
    • Offers no protection to buyer
  • Venmo
    • Venmo TOS states that it is NOT to be used for purchasing goods or services.
    • The one exception is if you're using the Venmo-issued debit card and that vendor accepts it.
    • Offers little-to-no protection for buying goods or services.
  • Western Union, Walmart Pay, MoneyGram, Money Orders, etc
    • Pay cash at one location and the other party picks up cash at their location.
    • No fraud protection offered.

After the Transaction

These steps can help protect yourself in the event of a dispute or other issue with the seller and the animal(s) you have received. The more clear documentation you have, the better chance you have of prevailing in a dispute. Even if everything looks like it’s going well, these are good practices:

  • Photograph the Unboxing (Video works very well or even better in some situations)
    • Get a clear shot of the label before the box is cut open
    • Get images of each step of the process
      • Show the condition of the box
      • Insulation
      • Packing materials
      • Animal INSIDE its bag, delicup, or other container
      • Animal OUTSIDE its container
  • Examine the animal closely for any visible issues
    • Document these with pictures or videos
    • If the animal is DOA (Dead on Arrival) get pictures and/or video of it lying on its back
    • Notify seller immediately if there are concerns
      • There are time limits for filing a dispute over issues such as
        • DOA
        • Health concerns
        • Animal not as advertised
  • If you’ve given the seller an opportunity to work with you and feel like you can’t get anywhere, please contact us by filling out an Incident Report.

Conclusion: Risks vs Benefits

MorphMarket is the largest network for breeders and keepers to connect. We take great effort to both be inclusive to all hobby breeders AND protect buyers by keeping dishonest sellers out of our marketplace. Genuine scammers are rare, and we usually catch and remove them quickly. However these people are looking to take advantage of inexperienced buyers, and we do not want to see anyone get ripped off. Don’t send money to anyone unless you feel comfortable and confident.

Using the advice in this document, each buyer can decide their own level of risk. Newer buyers can eliminate almost all risk by limiting themselves to those sellers with well established reputations. Similarly, more experienced buyers can gain the benefit of maximum selection with low risk.

Buying in-person from breeders at expos or other local sales venues has some benefits, such as being able to examine the animal’s physical condition in person; however, it also carries a different set of risks. Often, there is no proof of purchase and no recourse if things go wrong. There is no papertrail of what exactly was agreed to. There is no one available to mediate a dispute as we do at MorphMarket.

There is always risk in buying and selling live animals, both online and off. We believe that the benefits of buying through MorphMarket far outweigh the risks, especially when the following steps are taken by all parties to educate themselves and mitigate the risks as much as possible.

If you have any questions, we’d love to help. Please contact our Customer Success team.

Learn More