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Beware of This Callous Service Dog Scam

How to spot fraudsters who target veterans


spinner image a burglar climbs over a laptop with a dog on the screen
Paul Spella; (Source: Getty Images (3)) 

After his beloved service dog Abby died, Air Force veteran Joe Jacobs was keen to get a puppy that he could train to replace her.

A Facebook group for German Shepherd enthusiasts seemed the logical place for Joe, 64, and his wife Ann, 63, who live in Conneaut, Ohio, to connect with a breeder.

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Joe’s wife Ann was delighted to see a posting about puppies for sale, negotiated a $500 deal with the breeder and sent the payment via Zelle. The breeder said they’d deliver the dog to them at the Erie Airport, but as the date approached things started to get fishy.

The breeder asked for more and more money for various reasons, getting Joe and Ann to pay little by little until they had sent a total of $800. On the day when the breeder was supposed to deliver the puppy, Joe and Ann waited at the airport in vain.

They never received a dog or any of their money back. It’s likely the “breeder” didn’t even have a dog. “I fought hard for this country,” Joe told Cleveland 19 News. “Overseas and everything. Just that people will do this and take advantage of you hurts. It hurts deeply.”

Service dog scams are common

“It happens very often,” Nicole Rossman, owner of LandShark German Shepherds in Pierpont, Ohio, told AARP Experience Counts. “I’ve seen it a lot as a breeder.”

She heard about the Jacobs’ plight and gifted the couple a black German Shepherd puppy, Kaylee, along with 50 pounds of dog food and service dog training. “They’re local to us and we wanted to help,” she said.

Joe and Ann shared their story in the hope of preventing others from being scammed.

Rossman, the Good Samaritan in this case, has some advice for avoiding dog scams:

Trust but verify

Check whether the breeder you are dealing with has a kennel license in their state. It’s okay to buy from a breeder who isn’t local to you, but make sure they are a legal business.

“Most legit breeders are actual, licensed businesses,” said Rossman. “I’m registered with the state of Ohio. I have an LLC. My name is trademarked. There’s a lot of accessible information to check and see that we are who we say that we are.”

Also ask your breeder for references and check with local and state police to ask if the breeder in question has been associated with any scams that have been reported. Another option is asking the breeder if they are a member of a local group affiliated with American Kennel Club.

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  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Be wary of all-digital communication

Many scammers target people on social media, especially through targeted ads on Facebook. This is true not only for German Shepherds and service dogs, but for all kinds of dogs.

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If you connect with a breeder on social media, make sure to take the conversation offline. If you aren’t able to visit the breeder in person, communicate with them by phone or video call to discuss the details.

Scammers depend on using digital communications to keep buyers at arm’s length. “I’ve worked with people across the country and I’ve never been opposed to doing Facetime calls,” said Rossman.

Urgency over money is a red flag

Rossman advises that most breeders do ask for deposits on the purchase of the puppy but the deposit amount is generally no more than 25 percent. Be wary of anyone asking for more.

Rapid or urgent requests for money are a bad sign. Legitimate breeders will want to discuss the purchase with you to determine that your home will be a good place for one of their dogs. They will be as concerned with the dog’s future welfare as the fee involved.

Don't go to an airport for delivery

The ploy that the scammers used on the Jacobs—saying they would send the puppy to a local airport—is a common one used by scammers. It’s a red flag that you’re dealing with a fraudulent outfit.

“We don’t do that,” said Rossman. “We use ground transport and the buyer determines which company.” There are many reputable transport companies that specialize in shipping pets safely in climate-controlled vehicle with drivers who have experience with animals.

A happy ending

The Jacobs are thrilled to have Kaylee, and Rossman is happy not only to have helped them recover from the theft but also to have placed her dog in a good home where it will be of assistance to a veteran who served his country.

"Kaylee is needed,” she said. “It makes me feel a lot better about that puppy leaving. Joe relies on that dog on a daily basis, and he's going to hold her to a high standard. She will be taken care of.”

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