KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Better Business Bureau is warning people of online puppy scams targeted at pulling on shoppers' heartstrings this holiday season.

The BBB says complaints continue to pour into the organization's Scam Tracker as fake pet and puppy scams are increasing. 

There have been reports in the Greater Knoxville area, according to Tony Binkley, the President and CEO of BBB Serving Greater East Tennessee.

The BBB reports puppy scams have increased 39 percent since 2017, when consumers were first alerted about the problem. In the last three years, the organization received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about "businesses" selling puppies and other pets.

The BBB study found in over half of reports regarding dog sellers, consumers allegedly never received the pets they purchased.

The nonprofit organization encourages shoppers to educate themselves and look for signs of puppy scams online when looking for a new pet.

Here's how the scam works, according to the BBB: 

  • An ad showing a cute puppy usually pops up on a website. 
  • The scammers claim to be breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their pet. 
  • Once you inquire about the pet, they ask you to wire money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram to complete the purchase.
  • The "seller" then promises your pet will be shipped right away, but there are always unexpected problems. With each problem, scammers promise they will refund the unexpected costs when the pet is delivered.
  • In many cases, the pet is never delivered, and the money is never returned.

There are ways to protect yourself, according to the BBB:

  • If possible, inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit.
  • Never send money via Western Union and MoneyGram to people or companies you don't know and trust. The same goes for prepaid debit cards and gift cards. Always use a credit card, in case you need to dispute the charges.
  • Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.
  • Check out the website. Go to petscams.com to see if a site selling pets is bogus.
  • If you have been a victim or see a puppy scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker.

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