Cute, huh? And such a bargain at $350.
Except there is no doggie, and Dave is a scammer who will delay sending you the puppy after mysterious unexpected costs and fees pop up.
The Arizona Republic
May. 30, 2007 12:00 AM
Internet scammers have tried just about everything, and now they are peddling puppies.
Puppy scams are popping up in Arizona online and print classified ads, where the seller appears to be local and offers free English bulldogs or Yorkshire terriers. But when contacted by e-mail, the seller says he or she is in Africa on a religious mission and promises to ship the dog overnight for a few hundred dollars. After getting the money, the seller never ships a puppy.
A similar scenario is playing out in other states and countries, prompting consumer warnings Tuesday from the Better Business Bureau and the American Kennel Club.
"This particular 'Nigerian missionary' scam seems to be coming to a head right now," said Daisy Okas, a spokeswoman for the New York-based AKC. The club started getting complaints last month and knows of at least a half-dozen victims.
One of those stung by the scam is Michelle Messmer, 23, of Mesa. She spent $1,200 between January and March on a Yorkshire terrier that never arrived. The seller, who claimed to be in Illinois, originally wanted $350 to ship the dog.
After she wired the money, the excuses started. The seller claimed the person who was supposed to ship the dog had an emergency and took the dog with him to Nigeria. The "shipper" then e-mailed her and said he and the dog were returning but were stuck in customs. He needed more money to get the dog out. Then, the dog got sick, and the vet bill needed to be paid.
Messmer, who works as a customer-service representative, finally pulled the plug, heartsick and embarrassed that she fell for the scam.
"It was very sickening," she said.
Variations of the fraud have been around since at least December, according to the Better Business Bureau of Central/Northern Arizona. Sellers advertise mainly in online classified ads and on their own Web sites.The scam focuses on popular and expensive breeds, such as the English bulldogs and Yorkshire terriers. The sellers post local phone numbers to give themselves credibility. The phone numbers turn out to be disconnected or are to a church or business that has no relation to the ad. Buyers then turn to the ad's Internet e-mail address.
Concern from breeders
Phoenix resident Sue Skidmore was interested when she saw a recent classified ad offering an English bulldog with AKC papers and a "championship bloodline" for free. Her husband had always wanted an English bulldog, and if the offer was true, it was too good to pass up.
She dialed the local number and found it was disconnected. She e-mailed the address listed and within 15 minutes got a response offering her a 10-week-old puppy named Dan. The puppy was free but would cost $300 shipping and handling wired through Western Union. There was one other catch. The dog was overseas.
"I am in Africa on a Christian mission with my wife, and we have her right here with us," the sender wrote. "And I hope that you are also a good Christian that will take very good care of our baby."
The response seemed fishy to Skidmore, who passed on the offer. But she worries that someone else will fall for the scheme.
"I think they prey on people," said Skidmore, a college professor who has four mixed-breed dogs ranging in age from 3 to 16.
When contacted via e-mail by The Arizona Republic, the seller denied the offer was a scam, saying, "I would rather die rather than scamming people."
In Arizona, local breeders are aware of the ads and are concerned.
"It just puts a bad name on us reputable breeders," said Lauralee Kendall, who owns SunShine Yorkie Kennels in Peoria.
Kendall said it's important for people to know who is selling the dog and where the seller lives so the buyer can return the pet if there are any problems.
Suspicious ads pulled
The Arizona Attorney General's Office declined comment on whether the office has received any complaints or is investigating. Spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said she is aware of the scam.
In recent weeks, puppy scams have been reported in places ranging from Ohio to Michigan to Georgia.
It's difficult for people to recover money in an international Internet scam because what's considered fraud in the United States may be legal in another country, said Ken Huffer, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service's Phoenix field office.
"Unless they step on U.S. soil, it's difficult to make an arrest," he said.
Newspaper classified ad departments around the country are pulling the suspicious pet ads off Web sites every day.
The scams are the talk of classified-ads forums, with managers sharing ideas about how to stop the problem.
At The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, it's common for employees to pull 80 suspicious puppy ads a week, said Amy Hannon-Glennon, manager of the classified advertising sales center.
The ads often are placed overnight, using stolen credit cards that have not been canceled yet.
Each morning, employees check the Web site and remove suspicious ads as soon as possible, Hannon-Glennon said.
"We are doing everything we can to prevent fraudulent ads from appearing," she said.
She described it as the "most horrible scam I've ever dealt with" in terms of being persistent and hard to stop.
The ads have common traits, she said, including a pricey puppy offered free and an e-mail account.
Sometimes the seller is in such a hurry that an advertisement for a Yorkie will carry a photo of an English bulldog.