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Scam Alert

Beware of Online Puppy Love

Scammers take your money but never send the dog

Carrie Goss was thinking with her heart when she placed an ad on Craigslist seeking a purebred Doberman puppy for her truck driver husband. "I wanted to surprise him for Father's Day," she says. "He just got a promotion to be a classroom instructor for other drivers, so now he's home and able to have a dog."

Beware of online scams when buying a puppy on the internet

Scammers sell nonexistent puppies online for a string of requests for more money. — Getty Images

A response came almost immediately, with photos, offering a weeks-old female for only $125 — a fraction of the thousands often charged by breeders. The pictures tugged at Goss' heart and so did the sender's own story.

Goss' newfound friend said she was with the United Nations, working in Kenya to fight a malaria outbreak, and had to get the puppy out of that country within two weeks. "She seemed so caring, so sincere," Goss recalls, "asking me all kinds of questions to ensure we would provide a good home for the puppy."

But after paying that $125 by wire transfer, there came a string of requests for additional money — for insurance, for permits, for shipping and boarding costs. She dutifully sent the money, nearly $1,600, before realizing that there was no puppy for sale. She'd been had.

Old scam, new tale

The old puppy scam lives on, but with a twist.

When this ruse first appeared in 2007, the main motivator for the victim was the chance to get a prize purebred at a fraction of the usual cost. Scammers pretending to be breeders stole photos of adorable pups from legitimate websites and offered the animals online for a fraction of their real value.

Now, the initial hook seems to be more emotional than financial — an appeal for help to do a good deed, à la the U.N. worker's puppy-in-need.

Or a scammer might say that "his grandmother or elderly aunt was suddenly hospitalized just after her beloved dog gave birth to a litter of purebred puppies," says Kathleen Summers of the Humane Society of the United States. The fictional pups may supposedly be a popular and expensive breed such as English bulldogs or Yorkies. Or sometimes the scammer will pose as a shelter or rescue organization that has just rescued a litter of puppies of an expensive breed and wants you to "adopt" one just for the price of shipping.

Next: Protect yourself from scammers with these tips.  >>

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