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If you’re looking to purchase a puppy this holiday season, beware of scammers who are trying to take your money — and simultaneously break your heart, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office warned Thursday.

Dogs up for adoption by the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services are seen in a photo released on Dec. 5, 2019.

In a late morning news conference, City Attorney Mike Feuer sounded the alarm on online puppy scams, which he said increase substantially this time of year.

The “particularly insidious” scams are organized by fake breeders, Feuer said, that trick people into spending a lot of money to buy dogs that don’t exist.

The canines are posted for sale online on either a fake website or a social media advertisement. Communication between the seller and buyer is held via text or email, in order to convince the buyer that the pet sale is legit, Feuer said.

“Those cuddly pictures that people will see online might steal your heart, but the criminals behind these scams are after one thing: they want to steal your money,” he said.

The scam also includes a section on the website where  the buyer can track the delivery of the puppy. However, it ultimately hits a snag when the buyer gets an email saying there has been a delay in the shipment of the dog.

“The victim pays fees, the scammers demand additional fees and at some point victims either can’t pay, or realize they have been taken,” Feuer explained. “But by this time, their money is gone and most people never get a puppy at all.”

Nationwide there have been about 4,500 complaints of puppy scams. Nearly 400 of those stemmed from victims in California and 75 of those complaints were from the Los Angeles area.

Feuer said anyone in the market for a puppy this holiday season should look for red flags including: an asking price that seems far below typical price for breed; the seller not allowing the buyer to meet the puppy in person; the seller won’t allow the buyer to pick up the puppy and insists on shipping instead;  and the seller requires payment by money transfer.

“Puppy scams are just one more reason that members of the public should be adopting pets from our shelters and not shopping for them,” Feuer added.

He urged community members who want to add a puppy to their home this holiday season to visit Los Angeles Animal Services, which runs six shelters in the area.