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Scam Alert: How Much is that Doggie on the Website?

Prospective pet owners should research a seller carefully, inspect the pet in person before buying, and only pay by credit card in order to avoid being scammed. (ID 947051/Pixaby)
Prospective pet owners should research a seller carefully, inspect the pet in person before buying, and only pay by credit card in order to avoid being scammed. (ID 947051/Pixaby)
January 7, 2019

RALEIGH, N.C. – Some prospective dog owners in the Tar Heel State were taken for a walk over the holiday season, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Fraudulent online sales of pets are on the rise, and according to Alyssa Gutierrez, director of communications for the BBB of Eastern North Carolina, undelivered pets are among the top scams reported last year.

Since the scammers have no intention of providing the dog, they tend to advertise breeds that are popular or difficult to find.

Gutierrez says the photos and lower-than-normal prices pull at the heartstrings and prompt people to open their wallets.

"People try to find a pet on a classified website or somewhere online, and it ends up being a scam,” she explains. “It's really difficult to avoid because, you know, you see these cute pictures and you're just emotionally involved already."

A BBB investigation found thousands of fake websites that often use photos stolen from legitimate pet sellers.

The Federal Trade Commission and BBB have found most people lose between $100 and $1,000, although last month, one North Carolina victim lost almost $2,000.

To prevent this type of fraud, the BBB recommends doing an image search for the dog's photo online, to see if it's been copied from another source. And if the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Scammers often want money wired to them, rather than accepting a check or credit card. They also try to charge exorbitant shipping fees up front.

Gutierrez says it's better to avoid online pet purchases altogether.

"So, what we really suggest is try to adopt locally,” she states. “That's the best suggestion we have is, because if you see a dog in person, you know it's really there, you know you're going to get it. There's just been a lot of issues with these puppy scams."

The website petscams.com posts information about bogus pet sellers, and the Better Business Bureau has information on accredited breeders and rescue shelters.

The Federal Trade Commission takes pet scam complaints at 877-FTC-HELP.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - NC