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BBB Warns Consumers Of Pet Scams

CHICAGO (CBS) -- That new puppy may look cute and cuddly online, and it may be offered for a cheap price, but more times than not, there's no puppy at all.

"These kind of pet scams are on the rise," said Steve Bernas, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

"As we all know, before the Internet, the question was, 'how much is that doggie in the window?' Unfortunately in today's world it's 'is there a doggie in the computer window?'"

A puppy scams report estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the word may have fallen victim to the scam, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars.

"We found the most common practice is crooks copying pictures of real pets and using them to create fraudulent pictures online," Bernas said. "Anyone doing an online search for a pet are sure to come across these fraudulent scams.

"After communicating with the fraudsters, consumers are asked to send money to them, but the alleged seller doesn't have a pet to sell. It's simply a scam to take their money. Anyone asking you to wire money anywhere is a scam." he added.

But money for the pet is just the beginning. Bernas said after paying for the cost of the pet, victims are often asked to pay additional fees for shipping, pet insurance, special crates, medical care and sometimes even for food and water.

Mike Wilborn says his daughter found a bulldog online that she fell in love with; bulldogs are one of the most popular breeds scammers like to offer online. The top three breeds are French bulldogs, Yorkies and Pomeranians. The girl was subsequently asked to wire $650 to the company.

(Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

"She asked me to check it out. I saw many flags. There were misspellings and grammar mistakes on the website," he said.

Turns out the company and the dog were both fake.

"My daughter did a reverse image search and found that the picture of the puppy had been used several years ago on a different site. That was the nail in the coffin for that puppy for us. She was really crushed," Wilborn  said.

Thankfully, Wilborne realized the scam before he sent any money.

"We were glad we weren't caught up in that scam. I contacted the BBB immediately about the site," said Wilborn.

Most pet scam victims are in their 20's and 30's. (Photo: Lisa Fielding/WBBM)

"Most of the scams appear to originate out of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or Moneygram," Bernas said.

"See the pet in person first. Adopt locally if you can. The shelters are filled with great animals looking for homes. Watch out for the deals that seem too good to be true," said Jeni Redmond, who's with International Pet and Animal Transportation Association.

Doing an Internet search of the advertised picture may also help identify fraudulent offers. To verify a pet website, or report a fake one, head to BBB's Scam Tracker.

The BBB says scammers are also setting up websites offering pets from areas hit by the recent hurricanes.

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