TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A woman thought she was getting a new, fluffy, white, formerly homeless Maltese puppy but later learned that she was scammed out of $250.
A woman we will call Silvia (we are hiding her identity) found an advertisement for a Maltese puppy online and eventually connected with the supposed owner on Facebook.
"She told me that she thought I probably was the best client for the dog since I had a Maltese, raised her for 13 years, and just loved the animal," said Silvia.
They chatted on Facebook's Messenger app for about two weeks. Silvia says it felt like they had become friends.
"My great, great granddaughter was born and she congratulated me on that," said Silvia.
The supposed owner was ready to ship the puppy to Tucson from Oklahoma, but required $250 from Silvia. Silvia said it seemed reasonable at the time. The money needed to be wired using Western Union.
"When I went down to Safeway to pay by Western Union, the lady actually asked me if this is what I wanted to do. She said 'Are you sure you're not being scammed?' I said I've been talking to this lady for two weeks," Silvia said.
When she thought the puppy was on its way to Tucson, Silvia got an email from the group supposedly shipping the dog.
It read as follows (including the grammar mistakes): "We have been stopped by the pet control at Santa Fe,New Mexico , they are demanding an insurance certificate and city permit for your puppy before we proceed to your address at AZ. To process these papers it would cost $600."
This is when Silvia figured out it was all a scam.
"It made me feel really stupid, like I had been had," she said.
Silvia lost $250, but says she is grateful she did not send the extra $600.
This scam is nothing new. The Better Business Bureau has 190 reports of it in the past year, six of them are from Arizona. Ryan Foster, a spokesperson for the BBB, says many of the reports are very similar to Silvia's story, some of them were taken for much more money.
"A lot of them range from hundreds to even thousands of dollars for this scam," said Foster. He says the highest amount lost that was reported to them was $2,500.
Foster says a majority of the cases involve a puppy.
Bridget Monrad owns a pet shipping business in Tucson called Happy Tails Travels. They help ship pets when owners are moving across the country or the world. Happy Tails Travels is not involved in this scam, but Monrad says her staff gets three to four calls about this every day.
"A lot of times they ask over and over again, 'What can I do? When is my puppy going to be here?' It takes a lot of explaining that there is no puppy and you've probably been scammed," said Monrad.
She added that scammers have found success because people are especially vulnerable to pets.
Monrad and the BBB have some common tips to avoid this in the future.
- Check the credibility of the website you use by calling a phone number or checking online reviews (it could have a very similar name to a credible website).
- Wire transfers with Western Union or Moneygram are a red flag. You should be able to pay with a credit card.
- Try and visit the puppy in person. Try and pick up the puppy in person.
- Lots of misspellings or bad grammar in a message can be a red flag.
- If corresponding by email, they should use an address linked their their business instead of gmail, yahoo, or aol.
Monrad added that once you learn it is a scam, immediately stop corresponding with that person and call police. You can also report the scam to the BBB.
However, Silvia sent one last message to her scammer out of frustration.
"I hope you feel good about yourself, bilking an old lady, who is a great great great grandmother, out of $250. I hope some day you're mother gets the same thing done to her and that you walk in my shoes."