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Blair Looney, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Central California.

Dear Action Line: I wanted to surprise my 10-year-old daughter with a horse for Christmas this year. I started my online looking about three months ago. There is so much out there on the Internet these days. People just need to be careful.

I answered an online ad about a mare named Stella. The advertiser gave all the right information about Stella and the price seemed fair. They even posted photos and information about a recent vet check up. They boasted registrations for Stella and that she had been professionally trained. So I answered the ad.

The seller said her husband was being transferred and that she needed a quick sale. We emailed back and forth and back and forth. I started to get nervous when we tried to meet to see the horse and we had trouble connecting. So I did some additional research and found the real ad for Stella at a real horse farm in Kentucky.

The ad I answered was not even posted by the owner. What can be done with ads like these?

Dear Reader: What a lucky little girl you have living at your house! I hope that your experience with one online advertiser didn't ruin her surprise.

There are some red flags for you in the very first encounter that I see from the ad you sent to me. The ad has poor grammar. The scammer also uses urgency by telling you that she has no one to care for Stella and must sacrifice her out for adoption and care as she must move to another state.

We see these kinds of tactics used in online ads for car sales, transporting vehicles from one state to another, trailer sales, camper sales and all kinds of big ticket items, but this is the first time we have seen it for a horse.

The Internet creates a place where it is easy for scammers to be anonymous, and easy for good citizens to become victims.

Here are some easy tips to keep you from being the net victim:

* Urgency, she was willing to sacrifice Stella for a quick sale

* Strange requests -- if it doesn't make sense to you, walk -- no, run -- away.

* Grammar and spelling -- it doesn't take an English professor to spot poor grammar.

* Requests for sensitive information -- be careful when giving out your credit card information.

* Guarantees and promises -- just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's true.

* Go to and find out who owns the website you are visiting.

* Check the website to see what their policies are and what happens to people that try to sell horses that they don't own.

* If you think an ad is questionable, report it to the website owners. If the ad is a scam, any good site will take it down.

* Last, but certainly not least -- IF IT SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS.

-- Blair Looney is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or