A new Internet scam begins with adorable images of puppies, posted by people who claim they are breeders and offer to sell a dog very cheaply or even for free.
The "breeders" communicate by e-mail. Sometimes they say the puppy needs medical care, or is being relocated to a foreign country and needs a new home back in the United States.
"They are playing to the heartstrings of dog lovers who are looking for a rare breed or something maybe their neighbor doesn't have," said Zach Vander Meeden of the San Jose Better Business Bureau.
One of these emerging scams is from Nigeria, a country long known for its Internet con artists. ABC News investigated Nigerian e-mail scammers earlier this year and found that they cheated Americans out of nearly $750 million a year -- often armed with no more than a computer and an Internet connection.
Their latest tool, say authorities, are images of dogs stolen from legitimate Web sites.
"They want to get you in with the cute pictures of the puppies, so your logic is overtaken by your emotional judgment," Vander Meeden said.
Visit the Breeder
It happened to Colleen Ladden. Lured in by a Web site, she spent $1,320 on a puppy that was never delivered.
"I was warned by my family, by my father, by everybody in my life, and I still got scammed by 'em," Ladden said. "They make you trust them, and that's the scariest thing."
People who respond to the ads are often asked to send hundreds of dollars for shipping. After that money arrives, there are often follow-up costs -- customs, taxes, inoculations.
English bulldog breeder Jody Ball promotes her puppies using her own Web site, RascalBulldogs.com.
"I think that the Internet is a great place to shop for your dog, but you should pick up your puppy from your breeder so that you can see the environment that your puppy is coming from," she said.
What to Do to Keep From Getting Scammed
Do Your Research. Ask for references and check with other dog owners.
Beware of Concern Over Fees. Authorities say any reputable breeder will have more genuine concern over the pet than what they're getting paid. And don't wire money.
Beware of Slick Web Sites. Ideally, you want to meet the breeder in person. And if that is impossible, remember references are very important.