By Brooke Rogers

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Thinking of adding a furry family member this holiday season?

Experts say be wary of buying a pet online.

READ MORE: Dallas County Sheriff's Department Investigating Fatal Accident On I-30

A new study by Veterinarians.org shows pet scams, especially involving puppies, are rampant, especially since COVID-19 began.

Texas ranked second in the country.

“A lot of people were turning to animals as a form of therapy,” said Lily Velez, the author of the Puppy Scam Report. “And unfortunately, a lot of the scam artists saw an opportunity to put up these fraudulent puppy sites.”

Ron Dunbar learned that after he thought he had picked out the perfect puppy for his wife on braveshihtzu.com.

“And then the next day, I actually talked to [the seller] on the phone for an extensive length of time,” he said.

It was only after he shelled out thousands of dollars that he realized – there was no puppy.

READ MORE: Relatively Boring Week Ahead Weather-wise, But Could We See A Few Snowflakes?

“I’m not proud of it, but I’m out $4,680,” he said.

The Better Business Bureau said the number of victims is climbing daily.

They have nearly 300 reports so far this year in Texas alone, costing victims more than $225,000.

“A lot of times these are just stock photos, and the animal you’re looking at doesn’t even exist,” said Amy Rasor, Ft. Worth Regional Director with the Better Business Bureau.

Velez said one red flag is if the seller won’t let you see the puppy – or at least provide time-stamped pictures and videos.

She says another is if the seller asks for an electronic payment or gift card, and if the breeder can’t provide health records, American Kennel Club certification, or information on the puppy’s parents.

And one way to guarantee your new best friend is real? Adopt from a shelter or rescue group.

MORE NEWS: 'A Step Towards Healing And Normalcy' Colleyville Synagogue Holds Services A Week After Hostage Standoff

“A lot of these places still have animals that are looking for homes. And this gives you the possibility to interact with the animal in person to make sure it’s the right fit for your household,” said Velez.