RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s a multi-million dollar scam that leaves heartbreak in its wake and those who track it say it’s run by organized gangs.

We’re talking about puppy scams.

One Triangle family who was caught up in the scheme is sharing their story so you won’t make the same mistakes.

An empty crate, an unfilled food bowl, and brand-new puppy toys waiting to be played with — all of it purchased in anticipation of Milly, a Havanese puppy who warmed the hearts of the Mack family.

“I was excited,” said Gianna Mack. “We got all the dog stuff, and it was building up to that. I was anxious but excited.”

Bought and paid for, Milly never arrived.

Not having the puppy took an emotional toll on the Mack kids who lost their mom a few years ago.

“I didn’t think people would actually do that and scam people like that,” said John Paul Mack.

Their dad, Joe, found the dog on a website advertising home-bred Havanese.

That breed usually goes for several thousand dollars, but Milly was being sold for $700.

Joe Mack explained why the dog was so cheap.

“They were getting a new batch of puppies the next month and needed to clean out these dogs,” he said. “They were willing to reduce the price in order to do that and offered free shipping.”

Before telling his kids, Mack wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting scammed.

“I looked into the BBB couldn’t find anything,” he said. “I looked at the American Kennel Club and there no red flags that this breeder wasn’t legitimate.

He even did a reverse look-up of the photos to see if they had been used elsewhere.

Mack said he found nothing out of the ordinary.

“There was nothing,” he said. “No red flags.”

He later found out the reason why the scammer’s website didn’t raise any red flags.

“They had just uploaded the website the week prior to my searching for it,” Mack said. “It wouldn’t have come up on the radar of any groups yet.”

Just before the puppy was about to be shipped from Florida to his North Carolina home, the scammers tried to get more than the $700 they had charged for the puppy.

Mack got an email saying Milly couldn’t be sent unless he paid for a special “bad weather shipping crate” to the tune of $1,500.

That email was a red flag.

“I called fowl on that, and they literally ghosted me from that point,” he said.

Joe Mack said he tried repeatedly to contact the puppy sellers again and again, but they wouldn’t pick up.

It turns out the scammer who stole Mack’s $700 is no novice at this according to the founder of PetScams.com.

“I was able to find 10 other websites in past 6 months that belong to him (the scammer)”, said PetScams founder Paul Brady.

Brady said as soon as a site is discovered to be a scam, it is shut down and new ones, run by the same individuals, are uploaded to take their place.

He said these people running these scam websites are “not amateurs.”

“They are dangerous criminals,” he said.

Brady said the people offering fake dogs for sale are generally gangs based overseas, and law enforcement usually doesn’t pursue them.

“It’s never worth the work involved in busting a scammer in a foreign country,” he said. “The cost is way too high for law enforcement to do it.”

He said the best way to protect yourself from a pet scam is to never accept still pictures or videos as proof from a seller that the dog exists.

“Say I want to speak to the breeder and see the puppy on video at the same time,” he said.

It should be a chat like Zoom, FaceTime, or Messenger video where everyone is online at the same time.

“I should have asked to see live pictures because everything they had was stolen from the internet,” said Joe Mack.

The scammers also demanded a wire transfer by Zelle, which means the money was unrecoverable as soon it was sent.

“I think if I had used a credit card that would have helped get my funds back,” he said.