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BBB: Puppy Scams on the Rise

The BBB is warning, puppy scams have taken money from tens of thousands of people in the U.S.

A local man fell victim last year. While he took many steps recommended to avoid scams, he missed some key red flags.

Ric Sternkopf started his seach online. After looking through many websites, he decided on a puppy name Kela from what he thought was a legitimate website: huskymates.com. The page has now been shut down.

He wired the down payment they asked for.

"They wanted more money, and I said, 'I'm not sending more money. I'll drive up there and pick up the dog,'" said Sternkopf.

That's what he did right. The BBB says scammers try to communicate on the web, email, text or telephone. This scammer agreed to meet in person, so Sternkopf drove over 300 miles to Minnesota. When Sternkopf arrived at the supposed kennel, he found out it was a city park. When Sternkopf tried calling about the dog, the numbers had been blocked.

Sternkopf admits he was just thinking about a fluffy, husky puppy.

"When I called my son he kind of laughed about it he said, 'Well, Dad you'll never get your money back; these guys are kind of slick," said Sternkopf.

Sternkopf isn't a likely victim of an online scam. His son is a military cyber security expert.

But the BBB says puppy scams are so common, anyone searching for a dog online is likely to encounter one. They conducted a study to try to understand how to combat the problem. It found these scams are often conducted out of Africa and Camaroon, and that victims are almost always asked wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram.

Those are red flags Sternkopf missed.

"There were warning signs -- don't send money, the accent, look it up online," said Sternkopf.

Sternkopf now has the husky he's been dreaming about... appropriately named, Dream Boy.

"The second time, two weeks later I used Google Maps and said, 'Okay, this is the kennel. There is a kennel. There is a dog in the backyard. There is a kennel there, so at least it wasn't a city park. It's a real place," said Sternkopf.

The BBB says these are warning signs of a puppy scam:

• 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.

More information and findings from the study can be found at https://www.bbb.org/puppyscam/

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