SAN ANTONIO - For dog lovers like Cindy Sanchez, the sweet, furry face of a puppy is hard to resist.
And scammers know it.
Sanchez is now among the tens of thousands of people who have been ripped off by fake online pet sellers and breeders.
"The whole thing was made up," Sanchez said. "It was very convincing."
Sanchez already owns a aastiff, a German shepherd and a Doberman pinscher named Bella, which she bought online a few years ago with no problem.
So, when she wanted a lap puppy, she turned to the internet where she landed on a website selling golden doodles. The picture of a puppy named Cindy melted her heart.
"The owner had named the dog Cindy, which is my name, so that was sort of a sign for me," she said.
The website indicates the business is family owned and American Kennel Club certified, and that the puppies are well cared for and come with a health guarantee.
"They sent a document to transfer ownership, and I signed it," Sanchez said. "The owner said they would take the dog to the vet, get it checked out and take it to the shippers."
Sanchez paid the $900 buy MoneyGram as the seller requested.
Text messages followed, indicating puppy Cindy was awaiting her flight from Minnesota.
"I got him a toy and new dishes. I was ready," Sanchez said. "Then, slam. The shipper contacted us and said, 'There's a problem.'"
The "shipper" requested she send another $955 by Money Gram to pay for insurance, which would be refundable once the puppy arrived.
Sanchez realized it was all a sham. And it's a lucrative and popular one.
The Federal Trade Commission says it has received some 3,700 complaints from people about bogus puppy sales.
A study by the Better Business Bureau found as many as 80 percent of pet-selling ads and websites are fakes.
"They are going to great lengths to create these great-looking websites," said local BBB spokesperson Jason Meza. "They'll create this fake narrative, fake reviews from people, but unfortunately, this can all be easily manipulated online. So, the consumer gets no dog and is out lots of money."
To help puppy shoppers avoid bad deals, the consumer watchdog group Petscams.com lists problem sites and complaints.
A quick search turned up plenty of complaints about goldendoodlepuppies.us, the website that Sanchez used. Among those complaints, several people who said they also lost hundreds of dollars trying to buy Cindy, the very dog Sanchez thought she bought.
Contacted by email, goldendoodlepuppies.us would not provide a phone number or address. When asked about the complaints against them, there was no response.
The BBB warns consumers to protect themselves by searching for complaints about a company they are considering, to never pay by gift card or wire transfer and be wary if the only way of communicating is electronically.
"If you can't see the person, see the pet, see the breeder in person, you're sacrificing a lot for that deal," Meza said.
As for Sanchez, the deal cost her $900 and a lot of heartache.
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