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BBB: Puppy scammers proliferating online

Families loose hundreds of dollars

"It wasn't the money, it was the dog I fell in love with," recalled Tonya Williams. She was lured in an elaborate scam complete with fake websites as she shopped for a Yorkie puppy online. "It really seemed legit, both websites," explained Williams. She wishes she had trusted her gut instinct though, something didn't seem right.

After an initial shipping fee, it was one thing after another from the seller asking for more money: the crate wasn't right, the puppy was sick, trips to a vet and more. In all she lost $1,300. "When I started complaining and demanding my money back, I couldn't get in touch with anyone," says Williams. She made reports to the Better Business Bureau, FTC and local police.

A similar scenario for burned Caroline Shultz. She sent $450 through Western Union for a Havanese puppy that never came. The seller demanded more money and when she refused she was threatened. "It was an emotional few weeks. I would strongly discourage buying online especially if it seems like a bargain," warns Shultz. She says these con artists are shameful.

These scams now so prevalent, the BBB issuing strong warnings. The agency has a map full of complaints and listing of the breeds most often sold in these fraud cases.

"The people scamming are mostly from Nigeria and Ghana who have found ways to suck money out of Americans," explains U.A.B. cyber security expert Gary Warner. He and his team are hot on the trail of these con artists. The common threads they find: multiple connected websites, payments through Western Union and mounting fees collected from buyers. "There's no dog, never was."

Warner explains Whoxy.com helps you research a registered domain name to reveal connections and when they were created. He showed us one example where a single email was connected to 29 domains. Sellers for many breeds and shipping companies were listed.

Another tip off: try a google search of the testimonials about the puppies to find if they're on multiple sites copied word for word. Another place Warner advises you to check: Artists Against 419. It originally started to track fake art sales online. Now it has amassed a huge list of these pet scammers, more than 9,000 compiled.

"The key to catching them is to get people willing to say I fell for it," says Warner. He urges the public to file their information about scams with the BBB and other agencies. Information may help catch some of these crooks.

One footnote: both Williams and Shultz's stories had happy endings. They didn't get their money back but both got puppies; Williams from a friend and Shultz from a local seller.

If you've been scammed:

File a report with BBB’s Scam Tracker

• Complain at Petscams.com

• Complain to the Federal Trade Commission. Call 1-877-FTC-HELP

• Homeland Security Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security also handles international fraud. Call 866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada)

• In Canada, call the Canadian Antifraud Centre:

Toll Free 1-888-495-8501

To read the full Better Business Bureau Report on puppy scams click below:

BBB Report

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