The Better Business Bureau is warning consumers that an international scheme to sell non-existent puppies and other pets to unsuspecting consumers may be significantly more organized and widespread than generally believed.

The new report, “Puppy Scams: How Fake Online Pet Sellers Steal from Unsuspecting Pet Buyers,” estimates that tens of thousands of consumers in the U.S. and around the world may have fallen victim to the scam.

In the typical scam, thieves impersonate pet sellers and instruct potential buyers to make upfront payments for shipping, insurance, and other fees associated with transporting the animals. In most cases, buyers never receive the pets, and lose their money.

BBB offers the following tips for consumers looking to purchase a pet:

• Research any business and its owners carefully before paying any money. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org.

• If possible, try to pick up the puppy in person. Puppy scams depend on buyers trusting that the animals will be delivered to them.

• Be careful about buying a puppy from anyone you don’t know, and be especially skeptical if the price is much lower than normal.

• Avoid wiring money or using prepaid cards or gift cards to pay for transporting animals. Instead pay by credit card in case you need to challenge the purchase later.

• Research pet adoption requirements in your area. Get a good grasp on what fees, permits and licenses are required by your local government and know whether they should be collected by the seller or government.

• Consider getting a rescue dog if having a purebred dog is not a priority. Generally, rescues are less expensive than purebred pets and often have fewer health problems.

• Victims of this fraud can report it to BBB Scam Tracker