PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Soft and cuddly. There is little wonder why we have a soft spot for our furry little friends.

“This is a major issue throughout Western Pennsylvania and it targets pet seekers,” says the Better Business Bureau’s Public Relations Director Caitlin Driscoll.

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Driscoll says there is an abundance of scammers online tugging at our heartstrings.

“The website looks legitimate with pictures of these adorable kittens or even puppies available for purchase. But 80% of sponsored advertisements for pets online are scams and 60% of people who come in contact with this scam fall for it.”

She says the median loss by someone who is scammed is $600.

Recently a local doctor and his wife were trying to replace their longtime Persian cat. The doctor electronically paid $900 to a website and never saw a whisker.

Driscoll says, “These scammers are banking on the fact people will depend on shipping and just expect the pet to arrive once the payment has been made.”

So she says insist on seeing and touching what you are buying, “The scammer usually cuts off contact at that point.”

The BBB recommends you carefully research any site you bargain with before making a payment.

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They offer these tips for anyone looking to buy a pet:

• Don’t rely on a professional-looking website or presence on social media as verification that a business is trustworthy.
• Research the breeder carefully, check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org and other reputable sources.
• Inspect an animal in person before paying money. If possible, try to pick up the animal in person. Online pet scams depend on buyers trusting that the animals will be delivered to them.
• Consider it a red flag if the breed’s promoted price is significantly lower than usual.
• Never send cash via money order or Western Union to a stranger. Recognize that payment made through Zelle and other mobile cash apps is untraceable and should only be used when you know the recipient.
• If you make an online purchase always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.

Look for a phone number and a location and if there is a location, “Actually look that up. In many instances, it’s an address that doesn’t exist and has been fabricated altogether.”

Driscoll points out there is a good reason for that, “Many of these scams originate from African countries.”

Online scams have become a major part of the BBB’s business and Driscoll says, “One-quarter of all those scams are involving pets.”

So buyer beware and be careful to check out who you are dealing with and use a traceable form of money in any transaction.

A credit card gives you the best recourse if turns out to be a less than reputable deal.

For more information on avoiding pet scams, visit the BBB’s website at this link or call 877-267-5222.

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You can also report a scam at this link.