FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Carla Rosier can’t say enough about her four-legged friend.
"He was perfect," Rosier said. "It was love at first sight."
But it took more than one site to find her beloved Snow.
"I came across a couple of sites," Rosier said. But the one that caught her eye, georgemaltese.com. “They have testimonials."
And a photo of the dog she had been saving up her money for some time -- then came payment.
"It was a Virginia zip code but when I talked to them it sounded like someone from across the country," Rosier said.
That’s when her eyes were opened even more and came to a sudden realization.
Georgemaltese.com, she says, was a fake website.
Online pet scams on the rise
Georgemaltese.com is one of the thousands online right now, according to a recent Better Business Bureau Report that has people seeing their dream pet but in the end are turning out to be a nightmare.
"I work really hard for my money so thinking I could’ve lost all that I would’ve been devastated. I could have cried myself to sleep," Rosier said.
Rosier reported the website and 10News looked up georgemaltese.com ourselves and copied one of the photos on their site. We did a reverse lookup on Google to find the same photo pop up on a different website, alwaysmaltese.com.
"These websites are popping up left and right and it’s a never-ending battle with law enforcement, the BBB. The key is to keep reporting it," says Bryan Oglesby, with the Better Business Bureau of Southwest Florida. "When we can gather info, and gather numbers, then it will help us shut these down."
The scams are not just happening here. The BBB study says that in an internal report the Federal Trade Commission prepared in 2015 found more than 35,000 complaints that refer to issues involving pets, and the majority of those are believed to be pet sales scams.
What kind of breed is the most popular to try and scam?
According to the Better Business Bureau study, the scammers do not need to have actual pets available for sale; it is a simple matter to advertise breeds that are most popular – and often those hardest to obtain.
Today, many of the complaints involve Yorkshire Terriers (Yorkies) and French Bulldogs. Petscams.com has provided a breakdown of the pet websites they have flagged as fraudulent for a six-week period between May 29 and July 12, 2017. The largest number of bogus websites they identified were selling Yorkshire terriers (108), French Bulldogs (105), Pomeranians (77), Bulldogs (73) and Huskies (63).
In just the past few months nationwide, we found reports from all across the country.
One person says they lost $16,747.73 from an online puppy scam. The consumer continued to wire money for a variety of "costs" associated with the shipment including:
"Tens of thousands of consumers have been victims of puppy scams. Unfortunately, not everybody reports it," Oglesby said.
"The best scam is a scam that plays on your emotions, that best to play on emotions then puppies."
How to try and spot a fake
Oglesby says these scam artists can replicate legit websites.
"The key here is to stop for a minute do your homework, do your research, speak to your breeder and ask to meet with the breeder," Oglesby said.
Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit. There is no good way to be sure you are not dealing with a fraud if you have no direct conversation in person.
But if that is impossible, there is a trick that may help to avoid a fraud. Pet marketing usually begins with photos. An internet search of these photos will reveal whether they are exclusive to that site, or have been used on other sites.
How do you do this?
Using Google Chrome as your browser, simply place a cursor over the photo and right click. It will provide an option to do an internet search of the photo. A website called tineye.com will also search pictures.
More importantly, never wire any money.
"Go to Petscams.com, go to our website. We’re working very hard to shut these fraudulent websites down," Oglesby said.
"Do your research.'
Note that an image search is also useful for avoiding other frauds, such as romance frauds or sales of nonexistent cars and trucks. In addition to searching photo images, someone investigating possible fraud can copy text from an ad or website and search it online.
Testimonials, for example, are often copied from the sites of real breeders. So if the same language shows up in several places, you can be sure you are dealing with a fraud.
Thankfully, that’s what Rosier says she did when she found Snow and can only hope others will open their eyes and Google to research a little before they decide on their beloved four-legged friend.