GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With people looking at getting a dog during the pandemic, scammers are taking note.

The pandemic has pushed shopping preference to online, even for new pets, and that can make it easier for crooks to set up a scheme. They are using cute puppy pics to get your money.

Carol Ford of Dorr fell victim to one.

“I’ve been brought up with poodles and I haven’t had one in two years,” she said. “The little red poodle was one of my favorites and I just wanted that type of dog and they are hard to find so I went to the internet.”

Ford found a little poodle called Sassy on a site called Poodles Groomers. She was adorable, seated next to Halloween decorations.

This image of a puppy, listed for sale as “Sassy,” was the bait in an online scam.

Ford put down a $500 deposit for the dog, which was listed for $1,350.

Her mom recently passed away and her kids are grown. Sassy was going to be her new companion.

“Go everywhere with me, vacations, store,” she said. “My whole family was so excited for me, my friends.”

The day before Sassy was supposed to arrive, the seller began asking for more money, claiming the dog needed insurance for the flight from Georgia.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute here,'” Ford said.

She became suspicious and asked to talk to the seller on the phone. The scam started to reveal itself: She said the more questions she asked,  the angrier the man became. 

“I said, ‘What airline?'” she recalled. “I’ll go to the airport. I’ll pay them to have the dog shipped, we’ll do it that way. Nope.”

Ford said looking back, there were signs that it was fake from the beginning — but like in many scams, her judgment had been clouded by her emotions.

The president of the Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan said reports of people being conned out of hundreds to thousands of dollars for dogs have skyrocketed in the last six months. Other kinds of pets may be used in the same type of scam.

A quick way to learn if you are being scammed is a reverse image search on Google. Right click on the image of the pet and choose “search Google for image.” If you see thousands of hits and the same image listed on multiple sites, it’s a scam.

The BBB recommends that if you can’t visit the dog in person, use a video call to see it. Make sure it’s live and not prerecorded.

Red flags include a deeply discounted price or sellers refusing to talk on the phone. A foreign accent could also be a giveaway because the BBB says most of these scammers are overseas.

Ford asked for her money back, but no luck. The cash is gone and Sassy was a sham.

“I don’t know if it was worse: losing the money or the puppy,” Ford said.