Experts say the vast majority of online pet shoppers will encounter scammers

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV/GMA) - A new report from the Better Business Bureau indicates that as many as 80 percent of all online ads for pets are fake.

According to the BBB, they’ve received 907 reports of fraud stemming from online ads, and a Federal Trade Commission report revealed 37,000 complaints involving pets.

The BBB believes the vast majority are puppy sale scams.

“I don't think that's it's possible to do a search online for a pet or a puppy particularly without running across one of these fraudulent sites,” said Steven Baker of the BBB.

Danny Shelton says that when his beloved Weimaraner died, he paid $700 to buy another online.

“I got an email from a shipping company, and it said you're required to pay $1500 additional. When I looked at - the shipping company was the same guy that I bought the puppy from - I knew then I was scammed,” Shelton said.

The scheme is so widespread, the bureau is warning “anyone searching for a pet online is likely to encounter this fraud.”

According to the consumer watchdog group’s report, the thieves often insist on email and text correspondence, and refuse to meet in person or allow the consumer to see the animal beforehand.

“I don't think you really can avoid a scam online. The only way to be sure is to go to see the puppy in person,” Baker said.

The Federal Trade Commission says the vast majority of victims are millennials. It says that generation grew up with the Internet, and is most likely to look for a pet online rather than in person.

Here are some guidelines from the BBB to help you avoid getting scammed:

• Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
• Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or Moneygram
• Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.
• Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer.
• The Humane Society of the United States refers consumers to local shelters. They also have tips for finding a reputable breeder.
• Learn about fraud in your area at BBB Scam Tracker.

Click here to read the full study.

You can also get additional information from the BBB by clicking here.

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