How much is that doggie on the computer screen? 

That might be the question lots of people feeling isolated because of the pandemic and impulsive because of the stress have been asking lately. But buyer beware.

The Better Business Bureau has publicized online puppy scams before, but the latest scammers have adopted new tools to separate would-be dog people from their money.

The BBB says the pandemic brought a spike in the number of complaints about online dog scams, with the median loss this year at $750. No longer are MoneyGrams and Western Union the payment medium of choice. Today's scammers push buyers to use Zelle and CashApp, while the scammers enhance their bogus dog listings in web search results by using sponsored links.

The bureau says scammers pass off puppy videos as the "safe way" for would-be buyers eager to meet the dog during the pandemic, and even send along fake shipping and tracking information to buyers once the money has been transferred. But buyers too often find out the tracking information is fake and there is no dog on its way.

Why are people still falling for scams? In part, because crooks keep adapting to the sales medium and have learned to recognize a vulnerable potential buyer who is stuck at home. 

Besides common sense, the Better Business Bureau urges potential dog owners to employ a few simple things to avoid getting tricked:

See the pet in person before paying anything. If that's not possible, arrange a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and pet for sale. Scammers aren't likely to go along with that.

If a seller sends you a photo, do a reverse image search on the web to see if the dog is being "sold" to multiple people at the same time.

Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or for a very low price. 

And "shop local" by looking at local animal shelters online for pets you can meet before adopting.

As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – especially if you can't see what you're buying in person.

If you believe you've been victimized by a scammer, contact your credit card issuer (if you used a card); the Better Business Bureau; and the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.

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