Scam alert: Crooks target families trying to adopt a pet

Here's how to spot scam before rescuing forever friend

By Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer

HOUSTON - Police are warning prospective pet owners to watch out when buying puppies online after receiving complaints about some out-of-state websites.

The sites contain pictures of puppies looking for a new home, tugging at people's heart strings.

"When it comes to puppies, it's part of their family, so they go online, find these pictures, then they are immediately attached or hooked to this puppy that they believe is going to be theirs," community relations Officer Patty Esselink said.

Scammers will lure potential buyers with adorable pictures of puppies, ask for money to be wired and then make excuses for why they need more cash.

"They contact them, then ask for an initial amount of money, then they will ask for a little more and call back and ask for more for a different crate or different shipping and in the end, the individual has never received their puppy, but has lost out on thousands of dollars," Esselink said.

A red flag that should tip people off that this is a scam: When anyone is asked to wire money for the dogs through a money gram or a prepaid Green Dot card.

Once money is wired, it is very hard to track and get back.

Esselink encouraged people to do their homework before purchasing puppies online, research the business, and type it in a search engine with the words "review" or "complaint" to see what comes up.

"A lot of the sites being used currently, as soon as you enter them into the search engine, it immediately comes back that this is a scam and people will write their reviews on why it's a scam and what happened to them, so just do a little extra homework," Esselink said.

The easiest way to avoid these scams is to purchase the dog in-person, or adopt from a local shelter, but if you do want to purchase online, make sure to take the proper precautions.

When buying online, the Humane Society recommends following three R's: the seller should be reputable, have references and you need to have done your research.

First, ensure that the breeder is reputable. Make sure the breeder answers any questions you have about the dog and can provide medical records for the dog, including vaccinations. Also, ask the the breeder to disclose any health problems for the pet or previous problems with the parent.

Then, make sure the seller is willing to provide references, proving they are legitimate. A real seller or breeder should not have a problem giving statements from satisfied customers or documents from veterinarians caring for their animals. Hesitation to provide these papers should be a red flag for a potential buyer.

Finally, make sure to do your research on where you are looking to purchase your puppy from, and what kind of dog is right for you. This tip is two-fold:

First, look into the characteristics of different dog breeds, and which one works for your home. Some breeds are more active than others, and keep in mind that long- and short-haired breeds are going to take a different level of care. Before looking for a dog, make sure you know which breeds are right for you.

The second piece of advice is to research the breeder itself. Check other sources to make sure it is a reputable source. Get in contact with the local, regional or national kennel clubs to see if they know about the breeder. Or you can even do research online, checking online reviews or warnings online. If all signs look good after this, then get in touch with the breeder.

The following are good questions to include (this list is not conclusive):

·         Can I meet the mother of the litter?
·         Can I see where the animals are kept?
·         How long have you been breeding?
·         What types of dogs do you breed?
·         What kind of contract do you use?
·         If my animal becomes ill after I take it home, what type of coverage or guarantee do you offer?

If you think you're being scammed, report it to your local police department so officers can investigate.

Also make sure to report it to the Better Business Bureau and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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