NASHVILLE, Tenn. - They've done it again. Scam artists have found another way to steal your money -- and this time, they're tugging at your heartstrings to do it.
The latest overseas scam? Selling pets online, or at least these scam artists claim to be.
It's hard not to fall for a cute puppy, and scam artists know that. But if you know how these guys operate, hopefully, you won't fall victim.
"It was like losing a kid," Thomas Bennett told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
He was heartbroken when his dog and best friend, Boots, died two weeks ago. The plaster on the dog's memorial paw print had barely dried when Bennett's wife jumped online trying to find him another.
"This is the puppy we picked out," Sabrina Bennett said, pointing to a picture of an English Bulldog puppy on her phone.
She was thrilled when she thought she'd found it, and so was Thomas.
"She was going to be the replacement for the dog that I said never would be replaced," Thomas Bennett explained.
But the Dickson couple is now again heartbroken, out $400 and without that new puppy.
“It hurts even more to know that we got took the way we did trying to replace him," Thomas Bennett said.
Sabrina Bennett said the online ad she'd found claimed to have an English Bulldog puppy for sale in Nashville.
She texted back and forth with the seller, who had a Texas phone number and claimed to have just moved from Tennessee to Ohio. He sent pictures of the puppy and then very detailed directions, telling her to go to a nearby grocery store and send him money through what's known as a reload card – by essentially sending cash without any sort of the protection you get from a credit card.
"I'm new to it. I didn't think about it. I should have investigated it more," Sabrina Bennett told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
She said she didn't notice the emails she got supposedly from the pet shipper were strangely worded, with spelling errors, both tell-tale signs of an overseas scam.
"I think I was just too excited to finally get the opportunity to get the type of dog that my husband wanted," she conceded.
After sending the $400, Bennett was told the puppy would arrive at her front door by Wednesday morning.
The dog never showed up.
Instead, Bennett got an email saying it was too cold now to send the puppy. It told her the dog needed something referred to as an "auto regulatory crate."
The pictures in the email show what looks like just an ordinary dog crate -- but the email claimed it was a special crate that had climate control. It urged Bennett to immediately send $1,000 to buy one of these for the dog.
“It's a well-orchestrated, laid out scam targeted to Americans who love their dogs and will pay just about anything to get the pet they want," explained Kathleen Calligan with the Nashville Better Business Bureau.
Calligan said the people running these scams are usually in other countries and part of a network running many different types of scams. The pet for sale scam is just the latest variation, but they all boil down to one thing: getting your money.
And it usually involves sending it instantly through reloadable cards.
"Don't do it. Don't fall for it. This is a scammer's tool," Calligan warned.
Calligan said she's really leery about shopping online because you don't really know who you're dealing with.
In the Bennetts' case, the dog seller claimed to be "Nicky West" in Ohio. But we found a Chris West, Chris Wades, Chris Morgan and a Mr. Chris all using the same phone number and pictures to sell dogs supposedly in cities across the country.
"There are so many great ways to find the pet you want. This is not even in the top zillion ways to do it," Calligan told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Sabrina Bennett said when she was asked to buy the crate, she got suspicious and as soon as she started questioning, the seller disappeared just like her money.
"I was sick to my stomach. I let my husband down. I got us into a scam. I didn't think we'd ever get tricked," Bennett said.
She said she's embarrassed by what happened, but she was willing to talk about it because she hopes it'll keep others from falling victim.
The Better Business Bureau said your best bet is to buy only when you can meet the seller face to face and in the case of a dog, when you can actually meet it and find out if it's truly healthy and friendly.