Leave it to scammers to take something cute - puppies - and turn it into something ugly.

During this time of year when puppy buying is at its peak, scammers are pulling some old

tricks out of their hats and using fake websites to con would-be pet owners out of money, according to the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

The agency has been receiving reports from consumers in the last few weeks who find an "irresistibly adorable" pet for sale online, but after they wire the money to the seller to ship the pet to them, the seller takes the cash and disappears.

It's not a shaggy-dog story. It's happening.

The bureau reports that one 14-year-old girl from Arkansas had been saving money to purchase herself a puppy and, with help from her dad, wired funds to "Best Golden Doodle Family Pubs" claiming to be in Edina, only to never receive the puppy. Another woman reported losing $900 to the same fake company, which uses a phony website (goldendoodlepuppies.us) to make sales.

According to the bureau, the website further tries to trick consumers by showcasing an American Kennel Club logo and claiming to be "certified" with the AKC. According to the AKC, the club does not certify breeders or sellers. Rather, breeders register their litters with the club, and golden doodles are not a registrable breed.

Not only are scammers trying to finagle money from consumers for the cost of the pet, but some

have successfully convinced buyers to pay exorbitant shipping or insurance costs on top of the

purchase price, noted the bureau.

One woman in Minnesota was told she would need to pay an additional $960 for a special dog crate - a cost that would supposedly be refunded after the dog's flight. Unfortunately, that crate fee will never be refunded, and no pet will ever arrive.

The bureau recommends consumers to only buy pets after meeting the animal, and the breeder or owner, face-to-face. To avoid getting scammed, the Better Business Bureau offers this advice:

• Don't trust everything a website claims. Call the AKC's customer service line at 919-

233-9767 to verify a litter if the owner claims to be associated with the club, or search the

club's site at akc.org.

• Don't ever wire money. A request to wire money is a huge red flag that the transaction

is a scam. Wire transfers don't offer consumer protection in the same way a credit card

company can.

• Beware of websites or ads with spelling errors. Spelling errors and incorrect

grammar are usually signs of a scam as many scams originate overseas where English is

not the scammer's first language.

• If the price is too good to be true, it's probably a scam. Always be skeptical of sob

stories or other justifications for a low price on a pet, especially if the animal is purebred.

These offers sound good, but it's often a bait and switch tactic, where the scammer

requests more money later.

• Make sure you have a written contract. No matter where you purchase a pet from, be

sure you have the terms, conditions and guarantees in writing.

• Get two references. Breeders work for you, and you shouldn't hesitate to ask for

references. Ask clients if they were happy with their experience and if any problems arose

from the transaction.

If you've been a victim of a pet scam, you can file a report with the bureau's Scam Tracker; file a complaint at Petscams.com; or complain to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.