SPOKANE, Wash. — If you're looking to add a furry friend to your family this holiday season, you may want to do your homework first. The Better Business Bureau is warning people about online puppy scams.

The days of finding a puppy in the classified section or on a flyer is almost a thing of the past. Many people now turn to the internet to search for their next pet. Scammers know this and are creating fake posts to try and steal your money.

Here’s how the scam works:

Scammers claim to be breeders or pet sellers. Other times, they pretend to be a distraught pet owner who must find a new home for their beloved dog. 

When you inquire about the pet, they ask you to wire money through such services as Western Union or Moneygram to complete the purchase. The "seller" then promises your pet will be shipped right away. 

But there are always unexpected problems. Scammers use a variety of excuses, like saying the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance, all of which need to be paid in advance. 

With each problem, scammers promise that they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered. In many cases, the pet is never delivered and neither is the refund.

The BBB said scammers love to try to take advantage of people when they are in highly emotional situations. A spokesperson for the BBB said the excitement of buying a new pet can cloud good judgment, and victims can be hurt financially and emotionally when they realize they have lost their money along with hopes for a new pet.

Reports of these types of scam have increased 39% since 2017, according to the BBB. In the last three years, the BBB received nearly 16,000 complaints and Scam Tracker reports from consumers about "businesses" selling puppies and other pets. 

The Federal Trade Commission estimates only about 10% of victims report these crimes – so the problem is likely more widespread.

RELATED: Buyers beware of puppy scam based in Spokane

RELATED: Woman falls victim to puppy scam

Estimated pet fraud complaints and scams nationwide:

  • 2017: 4,664
  • 2018: 6,007
  • 2019 (Jan-Nov): 5,879
  • 2019 (projected): 6,466

How to protect yourself from pet scams:

  • If possible, inspect the pet yourself by arranging to meet with the prospective seller in person. Most legitimate breeders will welcome the visit.
  • Never send money via Western Union and Moneygram to people or companies you don't know and trust. Once the money is wired, it is gone for good. The same goes for prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges. If anyone asks you to pay for anything with a gift card, you may be dealing with fraud. Petscams.com has also has warned people about paying with Zelle, a digital payment system.
  • Do an internet search for the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.
  • Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting or purchasing. If someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer. If they state that they register their dogs with a specific organization or registry, confirm by contacting the registry or organization directly.
  • Check out the website. Go to petscams.com to see if a site selling pets is bogus.
  • Find out what other consumers are saying. Check BBB Scam Tracker and do an internet search on the breeder's or organization's name.

RELATED: Puppy scam surfaces in Oregon