BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s heartbreaking when you plan to welcome a new furry friend into your family and the whole thing turns out to be a ruse.

Many people have fallen victim to puppy scams. They think they’re getting a new dog, but instead, they just end up with less money in their bank account. Recently, the SPCA Serving Erie County warned people about a fake Facebook account that was purporting puppies.

“Internet pet scams, specifically puppy scams, are nothing new, and warnings have been issued the better part of a decade,” Gina Lattuca, the SPCA Serving Erie County’s Chief Communications Officer, said. “The reality, however, is that we are dealing with emotions. People think with their hearts when it comes to these animals, even just photos of animals, which have a very powerful effect on our emotions. Unfortunately, this emotional impact is what keeps scammers in business.”

Lattuca explained how scammers can trick even the most alert of people.

“Even people wholly aware of internet puppy scams can fall victim to one, not imagining what they’re engaging in can possibly be the type of scam they’ve heard about,” she said. “They then engage in virtual conversations with the scammers and become even more invested in the possibility that the puppy they’ve been waiting for is finally available and can be obtained for a remote down payment of hundreds of dollars. The scams are usually variations of the same story: the puppy (that ultimately does not exist) is usually the last one, there’s high demand, and if payment isn’t received within minutes that puppy will no longer be available. At the SPCA, we encourage people to refrain from any kind of remote payment when a live puppy is not physically present in front of us, actually seen and held by a potential buyer.”

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) said that in 2022, those who fell victim to pet scams lost, on average, $850. That year, pet scams were nearly 19% of online purchase fraud incidents from January to September 2022, they say, totaling more than $1 million in losses.

“Scammers typically lure buyers to their website after an online search, social media advertisement, email, or text message,” the BBB said. “The website’s names and photos are often convincing. The fake websites, usually registered outside of North America, appear and vanish quickly making them difficult to track. The scammers will request payment via credit card, payment app, or gift cards.”

In order to avoid getting scammed, the BBB offers the following tips:

  • See pets in person before paying any money. 
  • Try to set up a video call to view the animal. 
  • Conduct a reverse image search on photos attached to ads. 
  • Research the breed to figure out the average market price. 
  • Check out a local animal shelter for pets to meet in person before adopting. 

If you, unfortunately, do fall victim to a scam, here’s who you can contact:

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.