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March 26, 2019 1:26 pm

How much is that puppy in … your browser?

National Puppy Day has come and gone, but that won’t stop the online puppy scammers from striking.

While pet rescue and adoption has become de rigueur among many dog lovers, other prospective pup parents are still in the market for specific breeds. And when they naïvely turn to the Internet to find their future fur baby, some unscrupulous people are often waiting to pounce.

“If you buy a puppy online, you run a very real risk of getting scammed,” John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, tells PEOPLE. “Even if you get the puppy you ordered, she may have come from a puppy mill that posts misleading pictures which mask the realities of the miserable conditions the puppy’s mother is living in.”

The publishers of Canine Journal concur with the HSUS’s stance, so much so they’ve created a sharable infographic to help educate consumers with the following nine tips and warning signs to watch out for when purchasing a puppy.

1. Prices are too good to be true, or the price is negotiable, on sale or at a discount.

2. Puppy is free if you pay for shipping.

3. Seller won’t talk on the phone and only communicates through emails or texts.

4. The only way to get the puppy is to have it shipped to you, and you can’t pick it up.

5. You must pay by money transfer or prepaid debit card.

6. After you make a payment, there are suddenly more expenses (e.g., shipping insurance, vet bills, crate fees, etc.).

7. The seller tells you a sad story about why the puppy is for sale for reasons such as a family hardship, relocation or death.

8. If the seller says something like, “We’re not breeders. Our dog just had puppies, so we’re trying to find them a good home.”

9. Red flag that it’s a potential scam: The puppy’s photo is in other ads (discovered when you do a reverse image search).

Additionally, according to the HSUS, some scammers pose as fake rescues or shelters, offering “adoption” services. “In these cases, it’s important to remember that reputable rescues do not place animals by sending out mass emails and then shipping animals to people,” says Goodwin.

However, if you are compelled to buy from a breeder, the HSUS advises to always meet the breeder and the mother dog, and see where the mother dog lives. That may be the only real way to avoid an online puppy mill scam. But better yet, the HSUS suggests going to your local shelter and adopting a dog there.

The HSUS also tells PEOPLE that it encourages anyone who thinks they may’ve fallen victim to a scam or been involved in one to notify the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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