Many pet owners would say their animal becomes a part of their family, and when they go looking for just the right one, they usually know them when they see them.
But a Channel 4 I-Team investigation found potential scammers who want to capitalize on that special moment.
We started investigating as soon as we got a suspicious email with pictures of an adorable puppy who we were told was up for adoption for free. But what the emailers didn't know in this case was they were corresponding with the Channel 4 I-Team.
The emailer said she was recently diagnosed with a brain injury from a car accident that led to the loss of her son and husband. She said she's looking for someone to take her 9-week-old English bulldog and is even willing to send "Webster" overseas if she's convinced he will be in good hands.
The Channel 4 I-Team wrote back, and the emailer then asked us to just fill out an adoption form. Later, although the subject line said the dog is free, the emailer said if we paid a $350 fee plus another $209 for shipping, Webster would be all ours.
But it seems the puppy in the pictures was never for sale by the person with whom we were corresponding. We searched Google Images for the photos they sent and found they came from a website of a dog breeder on the East Coast.
The Channel 4 I-Team spoke to those breeders, and they said they didn't send those emails.
The puppy in question was recently sold to a new family, and we even had his new owners send us a video of him.
Days later, the emailers continued to ask us to send money right away, and it turns out this scam was already on the Better Business Bureau's radar.
The BBB said thieves often lift online pictures of cute pets and claim they're for sale, hoping you will fall for it.
"This is big business. The scammers love this," said Kathleen Calligan, with the Better Business Bureau. "Scammers love your pictures that you post on your Facebook page of you and that adorable kitten or dog that you wouldn't take anything for. They're going to lift those pictures and post them on Craigslist and other venues, and they're going to use your adorable loving family member as the hook to scam people."
Shawn Aswad knows all too well about Craigslist scams. She heads up the Middle Tennessee animal rescue group Snooty Giggles Dog Rescue.
"We've had situations in the past where people would take our stories of our dogs and then we would discover them in a Google search that they're posting it elsewhere as if it's their dog and they're trying to raise money for it," Aswad said.
She's there to step in when dogs are in bad situations.
"There was a recent one where a dog was posted on Craigslist - that somebody found it, they turned around, sold it for an extreme amount of money, and two days later the people are looking for their dog," Aswad said.
That animal you've fallen in love with and bought online could already be someone else's family member, and Aswad says Craigslist and online sales of animals come with another problem.
"It's also the people out there buying dogs that are looking to purchase dogs to do horrible things to," Aswad said.
Experts say when you are looking for a pet, your best bet is to find a reputable rescue or shelter to do your shopping.
"The message the BBB wants to send to our listeners is 'go local.' There is a great network of adoption agencies, rescue agencies, fostering families you can find the exact pet that you want," Calligan said.
"Go to your shelters, go to your rescues and, by all means, even when you go to your shelters and rescues, research those shelters and rescues as well, because there are some rescues out there that aren't reputable," Aswad said.
And, remember, when you do business online, not only could you end up paying a lot of money and not get that pet you had your heart set on, but your personal information could also now be in the wrong hands.
The adoption form the alleged seller of Webster wanted us to fill out asks for a home address, driver's license information, phone number, name, email and even proof of income.
"That scam possibly will not end with the disappointment that you have been scammed with the puppy. It's going to go on to other avenues of your life. Remember, you are going to pay in advance for a shipping fee, vet care checkups, vaccinations. How are you going to do this? You are probably going to do it with your credit card," Calligan said.
The Channel 4 I-Team asked the emailers who tried to sell us the bulldog for a comment, but they would not return our emails or phone message after we told them who we were.
If you do want to search for the perfect pet online safely, many rescues and shelters post their adoptable pets on the website http://www.petfinder.com.
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