How much is that doggy on the website? It might not even exist

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Bae is a 19-week-old Siberian husky with tawny brown markings and cerulean eyes. She’s available for $1,500 on the website of Theresa Rosales, a breeder who is licensed by the Department of Agriculture and offers AKC registrations for all puppies she sells out of her Hamer, S.C., home.

Photos show the pup standing near to a wooden fence and bright red roses.

One of those photos also can be found on websites called candyhuskies.us and diamondhuskies.us. On those sites, however, Bae is called Tilla, and she’s listed at the much lower price of $600.

Neither site lists the name or location of a breeder, and they encourage potential customers to email.

Bae’s alternate identity is no surprise to Rosales, who said her puppies’ photos are regularly copied and used on other sites that claim to sell dogs. And it’s no surprise to officials at the Better Business Bureau, which this week released a report warning that online pet sales scams are “victimizing Americans at an alarming rate.”

This kind of scam happens like much online fraud, the report said. A product is advertised on a professional-looking site.

Customers are asked to wire the purchase price, and then they’re asked for additional fees. In the end, the product is never delivered.

The bureau said its ScamTracker website has received more than 1,000 complaints about such faux puppy enterprises, and its investigation cited a 2015 Federal Trade Commission internal report that found a majority of 37,000 pet-related complaints involved fraudulent sales.

“I knew this was a problem, but it’s worse than I thought,” said Steve Baker, a BBB international investigations specialist who wrote the report. “This has just saturated the internet.”

The problem probably is a logical outgrowth of two concurrent trends. One is a growing pet population and an increase in shopping online — a universe where, Baker said, it’s near impossible to search for a puppy without wading through fake websites.

And much like online dating scams, the puppy versions prey on people’s emotions. Baker said several victims he spoke to lost thousands of dollars and ended up brokenhearted.

One California mother, he said, was bilked out of nearly $1,000 for a teacup Yorkshire terrier puppy for her 10-year-old daughter, who “was going to bed crying every night” as the supposed sellers delayed the dog’s arrival.

At one point, the sellers told the woman the puppy was stuck at an airport in Oklahoma, then threatened to report her to the FBI for “animal abandonment” if she did not pay an additional $980 for pet health insurance, Baker said.

Fake pet sales have become so pervasive that the attorneys general of three states — Ohio, Arizona and Virginia — have issued warnings to residents in the past year.

In a related development, Delta Air Lines last week filed a lawsuit against what it called a “bogus” site that dupes people into believing it provides pet transport services on Delta jets. The site is called DeltaPetTransit.com.

A hub for such scams appears to be the West African nation of Cameroon, where the domain names of many have been registered, Baker said. His report also cited a handful of recent charges against Cameroonians in the United States linked to pet sale fraud, including three Pennsylvania university students accused in May of peddling nonexistent boxer puppies online.

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