Garden State residents are being warned about an uptick in online puppy scams this holiday season.

Four out of five online ads about pet sales may be fake, according to a Better Business Bureau report.

Melissa Companick, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving New Jersey, said when people are shopping for pups, they'll often do their shopping online. Links or ads for sites will lead them to adorable pictures, and everything seems legitimate ... until it’s time to make the payment.

“A lot of times these scammers want you to pay in an unusual way, whether it be through pre-paid gift cards, but certainly not taking a traditional form of payment like a credit card or a debit card, something like that," Companick said.

Sometimes, a scammer will give a would-be puppy parent a tracking number, “and then lo and behold the day the animal is supposed to be shipped to you, there’s some kind of problem at the airport. You have to pay even more money to supposedly get this animal to keep them safe.”

She said scammers may tell you “it’s going to be animal abuse or abandonment if you leave this puppy at the airport and you don’t pay us for a special crate or a special heated crate or something like that.”

Companick stressed most of the time, the puppy you think you’re buying in these situations isn't for sale, because it belongs to someone else.

“I actually got a scam report today that said 'That’s actually a picture of my friend’s puppy that this website just lifted off of Instagram and put it on their website,'” she said.

Companick said people lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars in these kinds of fraudulent transactions -- so if you’re shopping online for a dog, do some simple research about the breeder and use common sense.

“You want to have contact information. You want to read the website. A lot of times there’s grammatical errors, things of that nature that we call out as red flags, and certainly you don’t want to respond to anybody that’s saying this puppy is only available today and we need your decision right now," Companick said.

She pointed out if you wind up sending money to puppy scammer using Western Union or MoneyGram, “that’s like sending cash -- it’s kind of like sending cash out the window.”

She stressed the best way to shop for a pup is to conduct the transaction in-person.

"You want to actually examine the puppy," Companick said. "You want to go to an actual building, whether it’s a home or a business address.”

She added if you are absolutely set on buying a dog online, research the company you’re dealing with first to try and make sure it's legitimate.

Companick said if you think you’re being scammed, you can report it to the BBB, and the information is shared with law enforcement.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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