One of the good things to come out of all the horrific weather that Texas and Florida recently endured is the fact that thousands of lost and/or abandoned dogs and cats are being adopted into new homes around the country at a record rate. If you're looking to add a four-legged friend to your family, please consider a rescue animal. You'll be doing a world of good--and you'll avoid a potential scam.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) just released a scam alert that involves people getting taken for hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars when they've tried to arrange buying a dog online, rather than getting one from a local shelter.

In a new report, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers”, the BBB warns that the scams are so widespread that anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.

The report estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to the scam, with prospective buyers losing anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars each to the thieves. The report recommends coordinated and aggressive law enforcement and increased consumer education to combat the scam.

“These cases can be devastating to families who are waiting for pets that will never come,” said Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). “These are not just a few isolated cases of naïve consumers being taken. This is a highly organized, international scheme focused on one thing – stealing people’s money.”

It's happening on the national level, and right here in Illinois, too. From 23WIFR News:

One consumer from northern Illinois says he was almost duped out of $650 for a puppy his daughter saw online. After doing intensive research, he saw the exact same picture of the puppy on a Pinterest page from 2008.

From the BBB's website:

A consumer from Collinsville, Illinois, who said he recently was duped by a scammer who took a $700 MoneyGram payment for a Weimaraner puppy. The consumer realized he had been scammed when the supposed seller asked for an additional $1,400 for insurance. The consumer said he never received the dog and never recovered his money.

A consumer from Oakland, California, said she lost nearly $1,000 – and could have lost much more – after agreeing to pay to have a teacup Yorkie shipped from Baltimore to her home. She contacted the FBI and BBB once she realized she had been scammed.

Some of the other findings in the BBB report on puppy scams:

  • Most of the scams appear to originate in the West African country of Cameroon and use workers in the U.S. to pick up wire payments sent through Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • At least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent. In all, there may be hundreds or even thousands of fake websites offering pets for sale, with many of the active sites registered in just the past few months. Virtually all of the photos and much of the language used on the sites are copied from legitimate breeder sites, or simply fabricated.
  • The thieves require that correspondence be done by email, text messages or by phone. Any request to meet the seller or see the animal before payment is rebuffed.
  • The thieves will continue asking for additional payments until the prospective buyer refuses further requests
  • While victims can be of any age, reports show that those most susceptible to the scheme are in their late teens or early 20s
  • Doing an internet search of the advertised picture may help identify fraudulent offers.