TORONTO -- Pet scams have been rampant due to COVID-19 as many people try to find a companion to keep them company as they stay home and self isolate.

Investigators with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) say losses are about six times higher than pre-pandemic levels and it's not just puppies, criminals are scamming those looking for kittens too.

Sandie Cook of Hastings, Ont. says when her husband Hal died after they were together for 40 years her home just seemed empty.

"The main reason I wanted a pet was for company. My husband passed away on Dec. 9 and by the time we got to January I was pretty lonely," Cook said.

Cook decided to get a cat and found an add on Kijiji for someone selling Ragdoll kittens through a website in New Jersey. She was told she would get a deal if she bought two.

After Cook sent more than $1,000 for the kittens, she was told more money was needed for shipping fees. After she sent that she was told more money was required for an air conditioned crate and then more again for pet insurance.

After sending almost $2,200 dollars she told the seller she would no longer send anymore more.

She realized she had been scammed.

“I refused to pay more and then he came back and said he was a lawyer and that he was going to take me to court and he was going to sue me and I said fine, let’s go man," Cook said.

Steve Baker with the BBB in St. Louis, Missouri who investigates pet scams said they are run by “organized groups of criminals."

Baker said when someone gets pulled into a scam criminals try to get as much money as they can from the victims.

“They will keep coming back until people figure it out it's a scam. At which point they (the scammer) will actually say the pet is abandoned in an airport and they will be charged with animal cruelty if they do not send money. It’s just fraud. It’s sad,” said Baker.

While fake advertisements are usually for puppies and kittens, Baker says criminals will try to sell all kinds of animals they don't actually have.

"We also see a number of complaints about parrots, about reptiles and criminals are also selling non-existent horses," said Baker.

Cook said “I really didn't think I would get caught in a scam that easily. I want people to know about this as I didn't know about it."

In the end Cook was able to buy a Ragdoll kitten in the Toronto area for $1,500 after she met the breeder and had the kitten delivered to her door.

When buying a pet try to meet the seller in person. If that is not possible ask them to do a video call where you can see them and the pet and if they won't do that, chances are it's a scam.