Online pet scammers have been ripping off consumers for years, but now these scammers are using COVID-19 to put a new twist on this old routine.

The kittens and puppies are advertised for sale online, but the scammers are telling potential buyers they cannot see the pet in person because of the coronavirus outbreak. Once the buyer pays for the pet, the scammer follows-up with a “special thermal crate” that needs to be used for shipping and it costs an additional $1,500.

Sometimes, scammers claim they are breeders or pet sellers. You inquire about the pet and the scammer asks you to wire money through a wire service to complete the purchase.

The “seller” then promises your pet will be shipped right away. But there are always unexpected problems. Scammers use a variety of excuses, like saying the airline requires a specific pet crate or the shipper requires costly pet insurance – all of which need to be paid in advance. With each problem, scammers promise that they will refund the unexpected costs as soon as your pet is delivered.

In many cases, the pet never is delivered and neither is the refund.

If you are looking for a pet to add to your family, don’t fall for this deception. Here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau.

• Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person.

• Do an internet search of the picture of the pet you are considering. If the same picture appears on multiple websites, you may be dealing with a fraud. You also can search for text from ads or testimonials to see if the seller copied it from another site.

• Never pay a stranger with a money order or through Western Union or Moneygram.

• Always use a credit card in case you need to dispute the charges.

• Research prices for the breed you are interested in adopting. If someone is advertising a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, you could be dealing with a fraudulent offer.

For more tips, go to bbb.org/us/news/scams. To report a scam, go to bbb.org/scamtracker.

Reanna Smith-Hamblin is president and CEO of the Better Business chapter serving this region. She can be reached at 502-588-0043 or rsmith-hamblin@bbb.louisville.org.