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The Ohio Attorney General issued a warning to consumers this month about an increasingly common and effective scam tactic: big, adorable puppy eyes.

Fraudsters have long used puppies in their quests to fleece consumers of thousands of dollars, and there’s something that makes these operations more hurtful than your garden variety Craigslist scam. As is the case with a lot of Internet-based fraud, hopeful pet owners agree to send a large amount of money to the person selling the puppy, only to be ignored and left puppy-less once the transaction has been completed. There’s more emotion tied to searching for a pet, rather than a gently used coffee table, but regardless of the circumstances, consumers need to approach such deals with a healthy dose of skepticism to avoid losing money.

During the past two years, the Ohio Attorney General’s office has received more than 25 complaints from people who say they found a pet online, paid for it and never heard from the seller again, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The average loss has been more than $1,000 per consumer.

As with all consumer-to-consumer sales posted through open sites like Craigslist, it’s usually a poor choice to pay for something you’ve never seen, agree to ship or have an item shipped to you and exchange money digitally or by mail. An in-person transaction is one of the best ways to avoid losing money.

There was another report this month of puppies being used as pawns in a fraud operation: A story out of Wichita, Kan., says a woman’s wallet was stolen, which allegedly led to thieves fraudulently buying puppies and trying to sell them for profit. Using the woman’s driver’s license and Social Security card (which you shouldn’t keep in your wallet for this exact reason), the thief applied for a Petland credit card and spent $5,500 buying two Yorkshire puppies and pet supplies.

When authorities tracked down and arrested a suspect, they found one of the puppies, but the other had been sold.

Fraudsters do some reprehensible things — like target children, the elderly and the disabled — and shuffling animals around as a part of the game is pretty low, too. The common occurrence of such harmful actions is why you need to monitor your credit, check your credit reports and look out for those who can’t do so for themselves, like your aging parents or young kids. Getting scammed out of cash is one thing, but having your identity stolen can be a much more serious matter and damage your credit standing. You can stay on top of your credit for free by requesting your annual credit reports and using credit score tracking tools through Credit.com.

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