TRIAD — More people seeking the companionship of a pet during the pandemic has led to a growing number of fake puppy mills, including an attempted fraud against a High Point woman, the area Better Business Bureau reports.

Erin McDonough of High Point wanted to get a dachshund puppy, and last month she looked on a website geared toward dachshund puppies and found a cream-colored puppy named Buttercup, the BBB of Central and Northwest North Carolina said. A friend who checked the website realized McDonough had been dealing with con artists who sought compensation up-front but never intended to provide a puppy.

When a supposed shipper contacted McDonough and said she needed to pay a $1,500 refundable deposit for a crate, she reported the fake puppy mill to authorities.

The number of fake puppy mill scams reported to the BBB nationally and in Canada has risen from 884 in 2017 to a projected 4,300 this year. The amount of money bilked from people has jumped from $448,123 three years ago to an estimated $3.1 million this year.

Lechelle Yates, director of communications for BBB of Central and Northwest North Carolina, said that people shopping for pets online need to know the red flags associated with the scam. Here are some tips:

• See the pet in person before paying any money. In light of the pandemic, consider a video call with the seller so you can see the seller and the actual pet for sale. Since scammers are not likely to comply with the request, this step may help avoid a scam.

• Do research to get a sense of a fair price for the breed you are considering. Think twice if someone advertises a purebred dog for free or at a deeply discounted price, which is a warning sign for a fraudulent offer.

• Check out a local animal shelter for pets you can meet before adopting.