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Seen At 11: Thieves Cash In On 'Pet Flipping'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Pet owners beware: Thieves are stealing dogs at an alarming rate, all to make a quick buck.

As CBS 2's Kristine Johnson reported, dogs are being targeted on the street, at the store, in cars and in backyards.

Crooks steal the pooches and sell them. It's called "pet flipping" -- and any dog will do.

Security video shows what happened to 3-year-old Marley. In just seconds, a man stole him off the street. Hours later, the thief sold him for $200.

The person who bought Marley discovered he had a microchip under skin that identified his owner. She returned him to his owners, Mia and her mother, Angie Estrada.

"I was just shocked," Mia said.

"He just scooped him up and walked away, just like that," Angie Estrada added.

But heartache is more common in this world where pet flippers even target shelters.

With their endless supply of strays in need of loving homes, shelters are an easy mark.

Jenna Givargidze runs one of the shelters hit by Lisette Tobon, who prosecutors said is a repeat offender and admitted to selling as many as 100 shelter dogs she falsely adopted.

"She felt like there was nothing wrong with what she had done," Givargidze said. "I'm pretty disgusted by the behavior of people like this."

Even pet stores are targeted. For example, thieves hit one Brooklyn store twice in one year.

"Within 60 seconds, they were in, they were out, and the puppy was gone," said store owner David Dietz.

Dog flipping has exploded across the country. According to the American Kennel Club, in just one year, the number of stolen dogs has jumped 31 percent.

"I think this just hits the tip of the iceberg," said American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson. "Not all pet thefts are reported, and not everybody files a police report when they should."

In Queens, Mary Bratta did file a report when someone snatched her dog, Kahlua, right out of her yard.

"I'm here 55 years," she said. "This is the first time this ever happened, and I had dogs all the time."

Bratta said the dog was groomed and about to be sold, but with the family intensely searching for Kahlua, the thief got cold feet and dropped her off at a Brooklyn shelter, where her microchip led to her return.

"I was so happy," Bratta said.

Experts say microchipping your dog is always a good idea. They also say if your pet does have a chip to make sure your contact information is current.

Also, if your dog goes missing, check online sites to see if it is being sold, experts say.

Pet flipping is a crime of opportunity, meaning a dog left alone is a prime target.

That's something Marley's owners say they learned the hard way.

"We'll never tie him up outside alone -- leave him alone, ever," said Angie Estrada. "Those days are done."

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