Who can resist the charms of an adorable puppy? As many have learned during the pandemic, canine companions provide comfort and joy in a challenging time. Since the start of the pandemic, the sale of dogs has soared and continues to climb.

Unfortunately, scammers are exploiting that longing for companionship. In 2021, pet scams made up to 35% of all online shopping scams reported to the BBB. Puppy scams usually take the following form: Scammers post cute photos to lure unsuspecting buyers. The puppies sometimes come with additional costs for things like quarantine and delivery fees. The unsuspecting buyer sends payment and then waits expectantly for their new pet, who never arrives.

Here are some red flags to watch out for before you pay for a puppy:

· No phone calls – scammers, often in foreign countries, will require communication only via email or text messages.

· Difficult to trace payment methods – scammers prefer that victims pay by means that obscure the recipient’s identity, such as gift cards, Venmo, Zelle, or money transfers through, for example, Western Union or MoneyGram.

· A price that’s too good to be true – a purebred puppy offered at a deeply discounted price could indicate a scam.

How can you protect yourself? First, try to see the pet in-person. If that’s not possible, ask for a video call. Second, always ask for and check references. Third, verify that online pictures aren’t really stock images by doing a reverse image search on a site such as images.google.com. Finally, consider adopting a pet through a local shelter or rescue group.