CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As the holiday season approaches, many people might be thinking about buying a pet as a gift.

But crooks are lurking behind some of those cute pet photos you see online. Police are looking for a local man accused of taking a woman’s money for a pet that never existed.
Detectives said the victim isn’t alone, as they’re seeing more cases of pet scammers online. The woman said she paid for a dog she saw, but according to the listing, the puppy is still available for sale.

The cute brown Maltipoo, named Rachelle, is ready to meet a new family. But technically, she should have already found a home, police say.

Judy Phillips transferred hundreds of dollars to the supposed seller. But she never got the puppy.

“I haven’t heard from him since,” Phillips said. “No replies. Nothing.”

Detectives were able to obtain a surveillance photo of the suspect cashing Phillips’ check at a Walmart store in Indian Trail.

“I was heartbroken when this happened to me,” Phillips said. “I can’t imagine this happening to a child.”

According to a recent report by the Better Business Bureau, at least 80 percent of the sponsored advertising links in an internet search for pets may be fraudulent.

NBC Charlotte did some checking about these listings. The same puppy was for sale from South Dakota to south Florida. In Gaston County, a woman was heartbroken to learn the dogs she paid for likely never existed.

“I just burst into tears,” she said. “Just dread. I knew right then and there we had been taken for close to $4,000 and there are no dogs.”

Experts recommend you pay by credit card in case you need to challenge the purchase later. They also say you should try to meet with the seller and see the animal in person beforehand.