9 Investigates: Pet scammers demand payments, don't deliver on puppies

Action 9: How to avoid a puppy scheme online

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Watch out for a new pet scam that leaves you short hundreds of dollars and with nothing in return.
The Federal Trade Commission sent Action 9 a warning about a scam involving English bulldog puppies. Usually, when the FTC alerts Action 9 about a national scam, there aren't any victims in the Charlotte area.  But, this time, Action 9 found three police reports involving English bulldog puppies.
In one case, Stephanie Santos went online, found a website she liked, found the puppy she wanted for $750, and agreed to wire $300 of it as a deposit. 
"It's more of an emotional thing than anything, you know, you get attached to the idea," Santos said. "I mean having a puppy is like adopting a little child."
The seller told her he or she would fly the puppy to Charlotte as cargo on a plane.  So Santos went to the airport twice, but the dog never showed up.  And, somewhere in the middle of those wild goose chases, the seller asked Santos for more money, for puppy life insurance.  Santos realized she'd been had. 
"Most of the time I have a good feeling.  I can read people pretty well; good indication.  But I guess he was good.  He scammed me," she said.

PHOTOS: Bulldog puppies
Action 9's Jason Stoogenke texted the seller with the number Santos gave him and asked about puppies for sale. The seller quickly responded to Stoogenke  with a request for a deposit.
When Stoogenke said he preferred to meet in person, the seller texted him, "OK, so you will be holding $750 cash, right?"
Ultimately, the seller did give Stoogenke a day to meet, a Saturday, and an address in Elkhart, Indiana.  When Stoogenke asked for a meeting time, the seller stopped texting.
Action 9 asked the ABC sister station in Elkhart to go to the address on the agreed Saturday for Stoogenke.

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The crew was there for less than an hour. No seller showed up during that time. And the people who live there didn't seem to know anything about selling puppies.
The woman who answered the door said, "We don't even own a dog."  The owner of the house, Maria Bonilla, told the crew in Spanish, "I'm worried about my name and my address" being used as part of a scam.
Three days later, the seller texted Action 9 again. It was the same message Stoogenke got on the first day of the investigation, cut-and-pasted, as if he and the seller had never spoken before.
Stoogenke stopped texting and called the number, but nobody picked up.  Finally, he left a message, but no one called back. 
Santos wants to make sure no one else calls or texts that person again.

"I just really hope that this doesn't happen to anybody, anybody else," she said.

 If you want to buy a dog, consumer and animal advocates recommend adoption first.  If not, go in person to a local breeder. 
If you want to buy a dog online:

  • Avoid wiring money: Be suspicious if seller asks you to wire money
  • Do your homework: Ask for the seller's name/contact information and search it online
  • Search the photo: See if the seller is using a stock photo of that cute puppy, pretending it is the one he or she is selling

In a case like this, watch out for a seller who:

  • Uses text
  • Has a Google Voice number
  • Says he or she is in Indiana
  • Goes by the name "Scott"
  • Tends to schedule things for Saturdays

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