Scammers using cute puppy pics to swindle online pet shoppers

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If you're in the market for a new puppy, the Better Business Bureau is warning you to be careful about shopping for one online.

The BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota says scammers are setting up fake websites, claiming they're dog breeders with puppies to sell, FOX 9 reports.

The group said it's heard from consumers who tried to buy a puppy from one of the fraudulent websites, thinking they were dealing with a legitimate business, but ended up losing hundreds of dollars instead, according to KSTP.

BBB has identified three websites in particular that appear legitimate but are not, and claim to be located in the Twin Cities metro area. They are:

- Happy Husky

Fenando Pomeranians

- Maliz French Bulldogs, also operating as Manuh French Bulldogs

An investigation determined none of them are real businesses, and photos of the puppies featured on the website are most likely stolen from other sites, BBB said.

Two of the three websites have very similar designs, and all three have virtually the same content. There's a page with photos and descriptions of puppies for sale (some of them at a discounted price), a privacy statement, and a contact form that allows the user to send an email. The text is poorly written. There are no phone numbers, no addresses, and no background on the so-called "breeder."

According to the Bureau, those are all warning signs of a fake website. Here are the clues to watch for:

-- Communication. If the only form of contact is via e-mail, that could be a sign that something is amiss.

-- Poor grammar or misspellings. Many scammers operate from overseas, and usually don't have a good grasp of the English language.

-- Method of payment. Be wary if the breeder demands that you wire money or insists you can only pay with a prepaid credit card.

-- Requests for additional money. Sometimes the scammers ask for fees to cover last-minute transportation or airport fees.

Victims of these scams usually end up without a pet and out the money they paid. Anyone who believes they may be a victim is urged to report their case to the BBB and local authorities.

KSTP posted the BBB's list of tips for buying a pet, to avoid being scammed.

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