By Pam Zekman


(CBS) — It’s a scam that will empty your wallet and leave a hole in your heart: Con men are stealing tens of millions of dollars from hopeful pet owners.

CBS 2’s Pam Zekman investigates.

After two of Dawn Rottstin’s dogs died last year, she turned to the internet in search of a new puppy. On a website she found a listing for purebred Huskies at $550 each, including shipping.

She says she was reassured by testimonials on the website.

“All of them said they would come back again and get another husky,” Rottstin recalls.

She picked a husky pup she called “Simba” and then sent the breeder in Minnesota $550.

“It turned out to be a nightmare,” Rottstin says.

The dog never arrived at the scheduled time, even after she sent another $905 for a specially heated crate. She still didn’t get her puppy.

“I finally realized that this is for sure a scam, and I sent him a text message saying, ‘I know you’re scamming me and I want all of my money back,” Rottstin says.

She never heard from the breeder again, and the website was taken down.

Experts say that thousands of people a year who just want to get a new puppy are getting ripped off by online scam artists. Steve Baker of the Federal Trade Commission says it’s a worldwide problem, with tens of thousands of complaints filed.

People are lured in by professional looking websites.

“I would never get a puppy sight unseen, no matter what the circumstances, even if it looks great,”  Baker says.

The pet you fall in love with online probably doesn’t even exist.  A simple Google image search of a puppy shows the same exact picture is used over and over again.

“I imagine this puppy existed somewhere in the past,” Baker says after finding a picture in an online search. “But the fact [is] that the same puppy cannot be for sale in all these cities at the same time.”

Rottstin got another dog, but her anger at the scammer remains.

“He’s an evil man that prays on people’s heart strings,” she says.

Authorities say the con men behind these scams collect tens of millions of dollars a year world-wide.  If you think you’ve been a victim of such a scam you should report it to the FTC.