Pet Scammers Falsely Sell Puppies Online
Fraudsters sent buyers to a woman's house to pick up the pets
Rochelle scores a great deal on a house in northern Virginia, only to have her dream home transformed a few months later into Pet Scam Central. Day after day, strangers show up on her doorstep, claiming they’ve arrived to pick up a puppy they paid for. Some have driven over six or twelve hours with their family. Unfortunately, Rochelle must break the news that she has no puppies to sell, and the hopeful would-be owners leave heartbroken, confused and out hundreds of dollars. Even worse, over the course of a year, Rochelle finds herself accused of being the con artist. Desperate, she turns to a local news station for help in putting an end to the scam.
[00:00:00] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:03] Leon Harris: Only on news 4. A local family desperate for help after finding themselves caught up in a puppy scam.
[00:00:08] Faith McCreary: We drove five or six hours.
[00:00:11] Susan Hogan: Faith McCreary lives in Mount Airy, North Carolina. and didn't care how long the drive was she was going to get the puppy she fell in love with online.
[00:00:21] Faith McCreary: It looked legitimate they had several different pictures of puppies so I'd give them a $250 deposit.
[00:00:27] Susan Hogan: That's when the Dallons learned their address was being used to pull off a puppy scam.
[00:00:33] Rochelle Dallons: Can I help you?
[00:00:34] Paul Brady: It is like a psychotic lack of empathy. I would be honest here. I'm not saying that that is the scammer themselves, but that is the scammer mentality. And, and they all adopt this. So they, they will all go to whatever level that will get them money.
[00:00:51] Bob: Crime hurts us all. The victims lose money and suffer emotional trauma yes, but scams often impact more victims than meets the eye. The skepticism they breed hurts legitimate businesses and theft forces them to raise prices so consumers pay more. You probably know that, but with many internet scams there are hidden victims, innocent bystanders, collateral damage along the way like people whose homes are used as drop spots for stolen packages or people whose pictures are stolen to make fake real estate ads or fake dating profiles. Today's story is a bit like that, but we're pretty sure you've never heard an innocent bystander story like the one we're bringing you today. It involves puppies and well let's just get into the story.
[00:01:42] I was brought up in northern Virginia. I grew up in Oakton, and lived there for a good part of my life and then went to Ashburn and then Leesburg and when we were looking for a house, we searched the entire, you know, area, and, and we found our dream house in Leesburg.
[00:02:02] Bob: Rochelle Dallons and her family had spent a long time looking for the perfect home, and just outside charming downtown Leesburg, in northern Virginia, a bit outside Washington DC, Rochelle and her family had finally found their home. The place really does seem like a dream, complete with a vista on the edge of Butterfly Pond, really, Butterfly Pond.
[00:02:28] Rochelle Dallons: It was you know, a very exciting time and everything. So we put it out there that we wanted a certain thing which was, you know, like a house with a wraparound porch, and all the things that I've ever wanted really. And so our realtor found this house which was actually a foreclosure at the time, and it hadn't even been on the market yet. And she's like, this is perfect. You have to meet me there. So we came to the house, and she was right. I mean, I saw it from the front, and I didn't even have to go inside. I, I was sold. Went in, and it was just even better than I had imagined. It sits right in front of a pond, but the pond is called Butterfly Pond, and I have, you know, a history of loving butterflies for various reasons, so it just, it just kind of all clicked and, and luckily, we were approved, and we got it, and we moved in.
[00:03:30] Bob: You bought a house on Butterfly Pond.
[00:03:33] Rochelle Dallons: Yes. We did.
[00:03:35] Bob: Ah, that just sounds so lovely.
[00:03:38] Rochelle Dallons: It is, it, it really is, and we've lived here for three years now and I, I love it just like I did the first day we moved in.
[00:03:46] Bob: The home really is a dream come true, except for one thing, but that one thing threatens to turn the family's dream into a nightmare. Not long after Rochelle and her family moved in, there is a strange visitor.
[00:04:03] Rochelle Dallons: Yes. So it was pro--, it was the summer after we moved in, just you know, minding my own business, and somebody came to the door, and I answered, and they said... oh, and when, of course I have dogs, also, so when the doorbell rings, my dogs go crazy. And I went to the front door, and there was this lady with her friend who said, "Hi," you know, "I'm, I'm here to pick up the puppy." And I looked at her and I was really kind of confused at first, and I said, "Are you sure you have the right address?" And she said, "Yeah." And she had like a folder of papers, and she opened the folder, and she pointed to the address, and she said, "This is right, right?" And I said, "Yes, that is correct," I said, "but I don't have any puppies here." And you know, you could just see the, the blood just drain from her face, like she was like, "What?" And so she showed me all the paperwork and she was supposedly supposed to get a Pomeranian puppy. She had already put money down for the puppy, and she drove, I think she said it was um, five or six hours from North Carolina. And I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
[00:05:33] Bob: Someone had come to the door. The door of Rochelle's dream home looking to pick up a puppy she purchased online after driving nearly six hours.
[00:05:44] Rochelle Dallons: I didn't know what was going on and so I invited her in, and we sat down, and we went through the folder that she had, which it wasn't a lot of information, but it was at least like the website she went on and the person's name, and their phone number. And so, I called the number from my phone, and the guy picked up, and you know I started talking to him about my house and the puppies, and he, he immediately hung up on me. And the interesting thing was about 15 minutes later I tried to call him back at the same number, and that number was already out of service.
[00:06:25] Bob: On my God, you're kidding!
[00:06:27] Rochelle Dallons: No.
[00:06:27] Bob: Wow.
[00:06:28] Rochelle Dallons: It was already out of service. Keep in mind that these people did not know me, and they, you know, they drove all this way thinking they were going to get their, this puppy that they'd been looking forward to, so they were very rattled, um, and, and kind of, you know, shaken. So that was our first experience.
[00:06:45] Bob: But soon, there are more knocks at the door.
[00:06:48] Rochelle Dallons: So, after this woman left, I think about a week went by, and the next weekend I had two different couples come. One had a child with them, and another was a, was a very elderly person that lost her dog recently and was trying, you know, wanted a, a puppy. So both were very emotionally charged because the first had a child and you know, when I, and when they came, I was like it, when they said, "Do you have a puppy?" I was just baffled that another one, right, another person was looking for a puppy now. And so the, the child was, you know, I had to tell them that it wasn't true, and the, the child was crying, and it was just terrible. And then soon thereafter there was another couple, this was the elderly couple, and the person who came with her, said, you know, explained that their, their dog had passed, and they were wanting another puppy. They had already paid money, and they drove in from Kansas. So Kansas to Virginia is quite a long way. So of course, she was devastated. She was inconsolable. It was not good.
[00:08:16] Bob: So this family shows up and they have a child who's excited to get a puppy.
[00:08:20] Rochelle Dallons: Yes.
[00:08:21] Bob: I, I can't imagine what it's like to have to tell a child that there is no puppy.
[00:08:26] Rochelle Dallons: Well I was crying by that time, too. I just couldn't believe this was happening, and I couldn't believe it was happening to little children who had no idea. All they knew was that after this long drive, they were have--, going to have a puppy. And, and I had to be the one to tell them that it wasn't true.
[00:08:42] Bob: That just sounds awful. And then somebody drives more than a thousand miles from Kansas to your house, and you have to tell them the bad news too?
[00:08:51] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yes.
[00:08:52] Bob: These visits are hardly a coincidence. After talking with these three buyers, it's obvious what's happening. Someone is selling puppies to people and sending the buyers to Rochelle's house to pick them up. But Rochelle has nothing to do with all this. She had told the other visitors to file police reports, but this third time she decides to call the police herself. At first that doesn't go so well.
[00:09:19] Rochelle Dallons: Nobody followed up or anything, so I was like, well, I'm going to call the police. And like I said, low priority, it took them probably an hour and a half to even come out here to take my statement, and there was that, a, a victim with me. So we were all sitting at my kitchen table just waiting for the police to come, and I had to like entertain people for an hour and a half that I didn't even know. So that was awkward. But he finally came, and he was, he...
[00:09:48] Bob: And ruins a Saturday afternoon or something right? I mean...
[00:09:50] Rochelle Dallons: Oh uh, yeah. Yeah. Um, and, and that was the guy that left pretty much not, you know, saying that they didn't know what they would be able to do. I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling from him. I think he was pretty much like, uh, yeah, this stuff happens a lot, and what happens is, is that these scammers are using um, like a Google voice number or something that's easily changed. Um, they change their website often. Their, their business name is changed even. So it's very, very difficult for anybody to track them down. So he, he left here, the police officer left my house, and I didn't have a good sense that anything was going to come of it.
[00:10:39] Bob: In fact, the only thing that comes of it is more visitors, a lot more visitors. Dozens more knocked at the door. So many knocks at the door that she has to put up a sign, a sign that includes directions to the police department.
[00:10:54] Rochelle Dallons: Literally I was getting two or three people every day on the, on the weekend. So I would get two or three people on Saturday, two or three people on Sunday. Occasionally, I would get people during a workday, but not normally. And I would have to go over it again and again and again. So finally, I said, okay. I'm going to put a note up on the door with all of the information about the police, you know, what's happening, the police and, and everything and then hopefully when they see the note, they'll go to the police department, which isn't very far from me. So I even had directions on like how to get there and what to do.
[00:11:30] Bob: This steady stream of people walking up to her front door about to be disappointed, even angry, well this goes from curious to annoying to alarming pretty quickly.
[00:11:42] Bob: What did you do, I mean since people are just regularly coming on weekends, I mean what, what if you went for a day trip somewhere and you, you had the feeling that people were walking up to your porch like this angry? I mean did that every bother you?
[00:11:55] Rochelle Dallons: Yeah, I mean it did. And it bothered me, but I, I made sure that either somebody was here, or I locked up really well and I continued to keep the sign up on the door. I also have a Ring doorbell, so I can actually video everybody that's coming to my door, so I can see, you know, what's happened, and you know there were a few scary incidents. There was one dude that came to my door and was obviously high on drugs, and he actually asked me if I have any drugs. I'm like, uh, no. And um...
[00:12:31] Bob: No puppies, no drugs.
[00:12:33] Rochelle Dallons: Right, no puppies, no drugs. Exactly. So that was kind of uncomfortable, like, you know, and, and, and then you wonder well who else is going to come to the door? And who's going to get angry, like I, I thought, I thought eventually somebody was going to come and just get really angry at us. And, and that, and that sort of scared me also, but at this point, I had done everything that I could possibly do, and I was just hoping that the police would catch them.
[00:13:01] Bob: Just hoping police would catch them, yes, but there seems little hope of that. There also seems little hope of Rochelle enjoying that wrap around porch quietly on the weekends anymore. Still, she keeps a positive attitude.
[00:13:15] Bob: Oh my God. Okay, but this is, you're barely a year into the house you bought that you love, right?
[00:13:21] Rochelle Dallons: Yes, I, I wasn't even there, it was six months. It, it was six months.
[00:13:26] Bob: So, so you buy the house of your dreams, and now are you feeling like, oh my God, this house is haunted.
[00:13:32] Rochelle Dallons: You know I never thought that. I love my house and I didn't, I didn't think that I was being targeted specifically. And somewhere along the line the police had told me that they thought uh, that my house was targeted because it was a foreclosure, and it was listed on Zillow and like all of the real estate sites as vacant. And so the scammer thought, well hey, here’s a nice big house. I'll use this address. But they didn't know that I had moved in, I guess. So they were still sending all of these people to my home, and it wasn't vacant. I was having to, you know, talk to everybody. So that's, that's how we think they found our house. And then, and the police also said there was another house about, in Virginia, but further away, like an hour away from me, same situation. They, it was a vacant foreclosure, and they were using that address too. So it wasn't just me.
[00:14:38] Bob: So I feel so bad. I mean here you've got this brand new house and you're setting up this new life. You've got this porch you've always dreamed of having, and now there's a sign on your porch that says, "if you're here for a puppy, I'm sorry, go to the police." Wow, what a drastic step to have to take.
[00:14:54] Bob: Meanwhile, Rochelle is starting to suffer other consequences. Collateral damage from this strange set of circumstances including some wild accusations.
[00:15:05] Rochelle Dallons: Luckily for me, nobody ever got really, really angry with me, but there were some people that were, you know, extremely frustrated, as I would have been too. And there was also people that, you know, rather than call or file the police report or call the police, they, they would actually leave here, call the police and say, saying that I was the one who was doing the scam. So then what was happening was the police were coming to my door asking me questions.
[00:15:40] Bob: Rochelle is actually a suspect and has to explain to the police officer who comes to the door that she isn't in on some puppy sale scam over and over. It seems like it's a different officer every time. Meanwhile, remember she's new to the neighborhood and it must have seemed strange to have all these visits from the police.
[00:16:03] Bob: So what did your neighbors thing about all this?
[00:16:05] Rochelle Dallons: (chuckles) Um, I often wondered that myself. Um, I, we're not very close with our neighbors, and, you know, the police were here all the time, so I have no idea what they think, what they thought of me, but I worried about it constantly, because, you know, so finally the, my one neighbor who's the closest to me, um, I just happened to see her outside, and so I went over and I explained, I was like, you know, "Have you see the police here?" And she said, "Yes." And so I explained what was happening to her, and then I also posted on our, the NextDoor app, which is an app that is kind of like a Facebook for neighborhoods, I guess you could say, but I just posted out in my neighborhood what was happening so that everybody would know, first of all, in case they're ever targeted, and second of all that you know, I'm not a criminal.
[00:17:02] Bob: Yeah, and it's an ob--, an obvious thing that here's the new person and there's cops in front of their house all the time. What are they doing over there?
[00:17:08] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yeah.
[00:17:10] Bob: And there's more. The scam threatens to hurt her home business.
[00:17:14] Rochelle Dallons: I own a company, it's a very reputable company in Lowden County, and I've been growing it for the past 8 years, and I started to get letters from the Better Business Bureau, and they were complaints. Now, it never mentioned my company name, but it had my address on it associated with other company names. So, for example, I would get a letter from the BBB for, for Teacup Pomeranians, that was one of the businesses. Teacup Pomeranians. And it was this guy in California who you know posted, who put out there a complaint about this company, but because my address was associated with that company, I was getting the letters. And then I think I received four over, over time, and they were all different company names, that had to do with dogs associated with my address. So that was a, a huge concern because, you know, I, I don't want anything negative attached to my company. So I called the BBB, and I told them what was going on, and they did remove all of that stuff from my address eventually, but with every letter that I got, I had to call and let them know otherwise it would have been put somewhere in there, associated with my address. I don't know if anybody would ever put two and two together, but I was afraid that they would. And that was just another...
[00:18:53] Bob: Absolutely.
[00:18:55] Rochelle Dallons: Yeah, and that just...
[00:18:56] Bob: Yeah, it only takes...
[00:18:57] Rochelle Dallons: another hassle. Yeah.
[00:18:58] Bob: Sure, I mean it only takes one negative mention somewhere in a place like that, who knows what kind of implications that could have for your business. Wow, that's terrible.
[00:19:06] Rochelle Dallons: Uh yeah, it was very stressful, and luckily that, that never happened, but just getting the letters in and of itself, you know, we disconcerting for sure.
[00:19:16] Bob: Months go by, months, and there's no sign the stream of puppy seeking visitors is ever going to stop.
[00:19:26] Bob: So I know you, you said kind of offhandedly, I can't tell you how many people have come to visit, but I'm sure, do you, can you give me a rough like, the roughest of rough estimates how many times this has happened?
[00:19:37] Rochelle Dallons: Um... I would say 50.
[00:19:43] Bob: Fifty times you had to break somebody heart who was looking for a puppy, and who's already out money, right?
[00:19:48] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yeah. They were already out money, or they had some, you know, circumstance that like having a child or, or losing a dog or something like that, uh which brought them to this point. So it was always very emotionally charged. And...
[00:20:07] Bob: Yeah, it's not just money right, it's the emotional trauma...
[00:20:08] Rochelle Dallons: No.
[00:20:10] Bob: ... of, of driving for a day, you're excited to pick up your dog and then this happens.
[00:20:14] Rochelle Dallons: Yeah. It, it was, it was really bad there for a while. You know I; I was having a few problems just myself just trying to deal with it because having to talk to these people over and over and over again, having them potentially blame me for not doing anything wrong, you know it was, it was, it was very hard. It was hard.
[00:20:39] Bob: And it isn't getting an easier. When Rochelle works with local police trying to straighten all this mess out, there's a big problem. According to the cops, there is no crime, at least not against Rochelle. So there isn't much they can do.
[00:20:56] Bob: One of the things I'm, I think about when I hear your story and I've heard other stories like this, is so when you went to the police, they said, well you're not the victim, the person who spent the money is the victim, right, so you couldn't really fill out a traditional police report in your name because they couldn't figure out what crime you were a victim of, right?
[00:21:13] Rochelle Dallons: Exactly. And they even said that, like they, they, they told me that they can't do anything for me, even though this is my house, and they were coming to my door. There, that wasn't necessarily a crime, so...
[00:21:28] Bob: But clearly you are a victim.
[00:21:31] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yeah. And I made it clear that I was the victim, for sure, but in the law book of, you know, there's no specific crime that was going on at my house. It was the people actually dealing with him and paying him money that, that, that's where the crime is. So even though I was the middleman, and everybody was coming to my door, they were telling me that it wasn't, you know, it, it didn't have anything to do with me. So that made it even more difficult.
[00:22:05] Bob: Of course, and you were losing Saturday afternoons and you were subjecting yourself to potential violence. I mean you were always worried about that. I mean clearly you were a victim. This is one of the problems with cybercrimes. Our laws are just behind, I think.
[00:22:18] Rochelle Dallons: They are very much behind.
[00:22:20] Bob: Finally, Rochelle has had enough, so she takes the drastic step of going public. Rochelle calls the local NBC affiliate, WRC, to ask that her story be told.
[00:22:31] Rochelle Dallons: So, here I am, I've got all of these people that I've encountered looking for this puppy. I have the police who are not communicating with one another, and they, not, nobody knows what the other person is doing. So that's when I contacted my local news. I contacted my local news, and I immediately got a call back from them to do an interview with me about, about this situation.
[00:23:05] Bob: And this is WRC, right?
[00:23:07] Rochelle Dallons: Yes, Channel 4.
[00:23:08] Bob: The N--, the NBC folks, yeah, it's Channel 4. I, I used to work in the Channel 4 building, so I know it well.
[00:23:13] Rochelle Dallons: Oh wow.
[00:23:14] Bob: I'm very glad that, that you had a good experience with them.
[00:23:17] Rochelle Dallons: Yes, um, it was Susan Hogan, I don't know if you know her, but she, I watched that news station for 30 years, so I, I felt like I already knew her. She showed up. I'm like, "Hey, Susan! What's up?" So it was like really, it was really kind of cool to see her, but she did a really great job getting all the information from me, and, and then before you knew it, there was a story on the news about the whole situation.
[00:23:45] Leon Harris: Only on news 4. A local family desperate for help after finding themselves caught up in a puppy scam. The whole thing has them fearful to even answer their front door and after contacting NBC 4 Responds the local sheriff is now on the case. Consumer reporter Susan Hogan has the story.
[00:24:02] Susan Hogan: that's when the Dallons learned their address was being used to pull off a puppy scam.
[00:24:07] Rochelle Dallons: Can I help you?
[00:24:08] Over the next several months victim after victim began showing up on their doorstep.
[00:24:16] Bob: And the story reported by Susan Hogan gets immediate attention. A day or so after the piece airs, there's another knock at the door, this time a welcome knock.
[00:24:29] Rochelle Dallons: It ended up being the Chief of Police who had seen the news story. And luckily for me, like he was very, very, very nice, and he, I explained to him that all, all of my problems and he understood, and he said that he would make sure that everybody knew everything a, about what was going on. Uh he explained to me why I had the problem of people not speaking to one another. Apparently, there's lots of different districts and things like that, and so the districts sometimes don't talk to each other. Anyway, he said that he would do everything he could to take care of it and to, you know, stop the police from coming to my door to ask me questions. And so that was a little bit of a relief.
[00:25:21] Bob: At least that means the police will believe Rochelle when they're called to her house. But the visitors, they just keep on coming.
[00:25:30] Rochelle Dallons: So after that, people still came to my door for a puppy, and every time, you know, I would let the Chief of Police know because he had given me his, you know, email and his phone number and everything. So I would keep in communication with him every time something happened. But this went on and on and on for probably close to a year.
[00:25:59] Bob: Close to a year? Oh my God.
[00:26:01] Rochelle Dallons: Yeah. Yeah, close to a year. They came from all over. They put down all kinds of money. And it was just, it was heartbreaking, honestly. And but, but again, I, I never, I never thought my house would be a target, so I didn't ever consider, you know, moving or anything like that. I just, I just wanted to get this, this situation to go away.
[00:26:28] Bob: So how does it go away? There's nothing dramatic, no final chapter. It just fizzles out. At least for now.
[00:26:39] Bob: So does this story end not with a bang but a whimper. Do the, the, the visits just stop eventually?
[00:26:44] Rochelle Dallons: Yes. It, there was not, there was no bang. The, it was still going on during let's see... it was going on because I remember people coming to the door in masks, so it happened, and then, but by, by the end of 2020, it had, it had kind of fizzled out. And I don't know what triggered that. I'm not sure. The police never followed up with me, and honestly, I'm not going to follow up with them, because I, I just feel like it's not a priority. So I feel like either the scammers who we determined there was one guy in overseas somewhere, not in the United States, and then there was a, a helper or somebody else in the United States that's working with that guy. So the scammer was actually not in the United States. And we think that the guy that was in the United States finally came to the conclusion that I was creating a, a, a stir about it. We think that they just changed addresses. I don't think that they caught him, honestly. I think that he just moved along because I was creating trouble. I mean there were a few stragglers there at the end, and then I kept my sign up on the door for probably three months, four months. I think it was Christmas is when I took it down, I didn't want it up, you know, with all the decorations and stuff, so I took the sign down and I haven't had anybody since.
[00:28:23] Bob: Taking that sign down is a big moment for Rochelle as is replacing it with holiday decorations.
[00:28:30] Rochelle Dallons: Oh, it was, I mean half of me was like, well they're just going to have to knock on the door, you know. I wasn't sure that taking my sign down was going to do any good. But I was surprised that nobody, you know, nobody really came to the door after that, so I, I still don't know what happened. I don't know if he's still doing it or not, but he's not doing it at my, my address.
[00:28:55] Bob: I'm just, but, but I am wondering, what, what was it like to sit on your porch again on a Saturday and, and think, oh geez, finally, we can have peace here.
[00:29:03] Rochelle Dallons: Honestly, I have to tell you that I had never felt like that. Since I didn't know the resolution, I don't know if it will happen again. Now it's been quite a while, so I'm starting to feel a little bit more relieved, you know, as time passes that nothing's going to happen again. But I don't think I've ever had 100% confidence and sit out there thinking, you know, every time the doorbell rings, most of the time it's Amazon, but every time it rings, you just don't know. I don't know who, who I'm going to find out there. So it'll take some time, I think, but I'm definitely relieved that they're not coming every weekend like they were.
[00:29:44] Bob: Rochelle was caught in the middle of a scam, and while her story sounds crazy, it's not all that rare. We found an expert to give us some perspective on that. Paul Brady runs PetScams.com, a site that chronicles fake and criminal puppy sales. And he's, well he's definitely seen this before.
[00:30:06] Paul Brady: We're all in a group and anytime there's a comment of someone saying they used my address, that comes up as topic of conversation because it, it does happen. What you may have noticed is that Rochelle moved into the house about a month before. I would guarantee you that address has been used for longer, uh, since before she moved in. Several times um, and I have seen several news reports, and I had about 15 people come on our site saying they're using our address. We have people coming to our door. What can we do about it?
[00:30:40] Bob: Brady got started on this crime fighting effort because he wants to make a difference. And puppy scams are increasingly common, and he thinks it's the scam where he can have the most impact.
[00:30:51] Paul Brady. So I've been involved in cybersecurity for the past, over, over 20 years now. I was very involved in romance scams, and I was involved in 419 or advanced fee fraud. At a certain point I, I realized it was taking too much of my time for what was essentially a hobby. So I found a specific scam, a pet scam with a very specific format where at any point in the scam I could say to someone, you're being scammed, and they would stop. Um, the difference between that and a romance scam as I, as you do know, I've, I've listened to your podcast, it can take months to convince a romance scam victim that they are, are being, being scammed, and that they are part of a scam. So for me, this was the most effect that I could have on fraud with the, the least work, if you like. However, it does now take up a, quite a lot of my time.
[00:31:51] Bob: Paul works out of Europe. He says the puppy scams seem to work better on the US side of the pond.
[00:31:58] Paul Brady: I am actually based in Ireland. Um, but we do have volunteers from the UK, Australia, and several from the US as well. The, the scam works very well in the US and in Australia because of the geographical distances, and scammers can pretend to be from a different state which necessitates shipping. So shipping's a big part of this scam.
[00:32:24] Bob: To get an idea of who these puppy scammers are, just how low they will go, Paul says the scammers often send potential victims on long road trips just out of spite, even if there's money in it for them.
[00:32:39] Paul Brady: The scammers will ask a victim to travel to pick up the puppy. If you, if you refuse to, to pay $700 or $1000 for the puppy, they will say, no problem. Come down, pick it up. It is a very childish revenge on a, on the victim of a scam because you're basically making them go on a wild goose chase. You're making them travel for four or five hours to end up at an address which and, and as far as the scammer's concerned, there isn't actually someone living there. It is an address that they found by looking at property for sale in, in whatever state they're pretending to be from. They do it just out of spite. It is, you've dealt with a lot of scammers, and at one time I did say, you know, how low can I go? How can I convince a scammer that I am the most needy, desperate person, and I stopped before they did. I, I couldn't stomach it. I couldn't stomach pretending to be someone that desperate. They, they carried on. It, it didn't make a difference to them. Aside from puppy scam victims, I have, I have met people and, and uh, I have spoken to people, and it would destroy you to hear their story because it is, I, it is like a psychotic lack of empathy. And I would be honest here, I'm not saying that that is the scammer themselves, but that is the scammer mentality. And they all adopt this. So they, they will all go to whatever level that will get them money.
[00:34:12] Bob: And to be clear, there's a lot of them.
[00:34:14] Bob: How many scams have you personally touched, or have you personally worked with?
[00:34:19] Paul Brady: It is a, a slightly different, difficult question to answer. We have over 35, 40 thousand websites created by scammers listed on our, on petscams.com. But we also include the, the shipping websites. When they're not all individual scammers, one scammer may have 20 or 30 websites. There is one gang in South Africa that we are currently looking at, and they are targeting Australia. They're, they are the majority scams stakeholder in pet scams in Australia, which is currently booming because of COVID.
[00:35:00] Bob: And plenty of these stories are really sad.
[00:35:04] Paul Brady: Yesterday I was speaking with a, a victim in North Carolina, and six years ago his, his wife died, and this year he finally found a puppy that would be good for his kids. I think he's got three kids. And I spoke with him more than normal. I got on really well with him, and I spoke with him more than I normally would have with a victim of one of these scams. And he was just going, you know, I, I paid $700 of money that I do not have. And I'm, I'm a father. It, I, I know why he was buying the puppy. And that hits you but I straightaway I've got another victim, and another one and another one, and I do not have time to deal with all of the people that come through.
[00:35:52] Bob: Here's Paul's best suggestion for would-be pet adopters.
[00:35:55] Paul Brady: With pet scams, I, I have one simple singular way of uh, proving whether it's a scam or not. If you're buying a puppy from somebody, and they're trying to sell you a puppy, and whether you're sure it's a scam, or whether you're sure they're genuine, say I would like to have a video chat, not a, not send me a video, but I would like to have a video chat with you, the breeder, with the puppy that I am buying, and with the mother of the puppy. If you do that, any breeder, they might go, "Look, when I find time, I will, but definitely this is something I can easily do." Obviously, they can because they have a puppy. No scammer can have a, a video chat with you and the puppy because they don't have the puppy. They will give you a hundred different excuses. What I do is I ask people to do that because I want to know their excuses and, and people are then glad to, to ask the question to the scammer, um, "Look, I want a video chat," and the, the scammer will say, "I will send you a video." There you go, there's a video that I stole off Instagram or stole off YouTube of a puppy, and they will say, "No, no. I, I would like a video chat with you." And scammers, scammers won't. And that stops the scam.
[00:37:14] Bob: And for someone who finds themselves in Rochelle's position, here's a great tip.
[00:37:19] Paul Brady: So the, the steps that I would take is if my address was being used, and someone called to my door, I would ask them, what are the names of the people? Who, who sent you here? Can you tell me the websites that they're using, and can you tell me the phone numbers that they're using? And tell the person who's at the door, I'm going to take this and I'm going to do the following: go onto Google Maps, or Google Business, so if you just goog--, do a search for Business Google or Google for Business, you can add a shop or you can add a business at your location. And this, this only applies on Google Maps. It's not with the IRS or anything. But you can put information onto Google Maps. So what I recommend people do is say, this is part of a pet scam. These are the details being used. And you can fill out lots of information on there. You can contact us, and we can have it as part of Petscams. So Petscams can be located uh, petscams.com can be located at your address. And we have had several people do that in the past. What happens then is Google will put that on their map. Then other map providers like GPS providers will use Google Maps to put it onto their maps, so if you're driving for 8 hours, the first thing you do is you chart your, your route, and you put in the location. And when you look at your GPS, it will show pet scams are operating as this address with all the details on there. And that breaks (inaudible) like nothing else. No one wants to go on an 8-hours' drive to find out if it is a pet scam, they want to go on an 8-hours' drive to pick up a puppy.
[00:39:01] Bob: So someone plots their driving route to your house, and the first thing that pops up is, "this is a pet scam." Don't come here basically, right?
[00:39:10] Paul Brady: Yeah, it's, it's like, it's similar to if you go onto Google Maps and say I want to go to Target near me, Target will, on Google Maps, it will you show Target. It will show you the address. It will show you the opening times, closing times. What would happen at your address, it will show you this is part of a puppy scam, um, the owners of the address cannot stop the scammers from using their location, but we're putting this up to help you. So then the, the potential victims will not travel for six hours.
[00:39:41] Bob: Is there a downside to this? Some people might, might say, I don't want to give my information to Google, or I don't want my neighbors to have the word scam pop up on, you know, Google Search, Google Map Search of my house.
[00:39:53] Paul Brady: There is. What we tell people is as soon as, as you are happy that people aren't arriving anymore, so it might happen, the scammer will change the address. He will use a different address in the future, so uh, what will happen is after a few weeks of the, the victims, or potential victims calling the scammer saying, I'm not going to that address. It says it's a pet scam, you know, I don't believe you anymore. The scammer will say, we'll use a different address in the future, but it does mean that people like Rochelle won't be having people coming to their house.
[00:40:23] Bob: It's almost like a secret message sent directly to the scammers, isn't it?
[00:40:29] Paul Brady: Well the scammer has no control over what you do at your address, and the reason for that is Google, uh will ask you to confirm before they allow it to come up on, on Google Maps. They will ask you to confirm by sending you a postcard. So you will receive a postcard with a 4-digits or 6-digits. The scammer can't hijack that. They can't get around it, so you can put up whatever warning you want at your address. When people stop coming to your address, all you need to do is say remove the listing from Google Maps, and it won't appear there anymore. And, and we're more than happy for people to do that because our, our thing is to stop people from continually being scammed. That will do it. You don't have a need to have it on there continuously.
[00:41:12] Bob: That sounds really, really smart. That's a great piece of advice.
[00:41:18] Bob: Great advice, but it's still a lot of trouble for someone like Rochelle who did nothing to get mixed up in the middle of all this. As I've said, scams often have more than one victim.
[00:41:30] Paul Brady: Well, there's, there's direct and indirect victims. Breeders are victims because if, if you have 1000 people looking to buy a puppy in an area, and uh no one is buying your puppies because they're all getting scammed, then uh that's an indirect way that, that a breeder would become a victim of, of these scams but, but also if you have a, don't have a large social media presence, let's say you might have a Facebook page but you don't have a website, then a scammer can build a website using your name, your address, your details, not your phone number, not your email address, and pretend to be you, so when anyone searches, the best example I can think of at the moment is someone selling Dachshunds in Tasmania, they didn't have a website. They didn't have a Facebook page, and a scammer built them. He built a website for himself and a Facebook page so when people searched for a very specific term, they saw only good reviews for a genuine breeder, whereas a scammer was in the background with a, a professional website and a Facebook page scamming people who thought they were dealing with a genuine breeder. So that's a very definite breeder who becomes a victim because their reputation is being ruined. As well as that, you have shipping websites reputation damage often, where victims will ring a, a similar sounding genuine shipping website, and they've uh, give, leave bad reviews, and they'll be calling them up demanding to have their puppy shipped to them when it's actually a scammer with a slightly similar domain name.
[00:43:07] Bob: I mean honestly it sounds like anyone who's in, in the legitimate puppy sales business suffers from this too, if it casts doubt on the entire idea of buying a puppy this way.
[00:43:18] Paul Brady: I, uh, like my recommendation of you need to have a live video interactive chat with the puppy and the breeder and the mother of the puppy. Victims, people are now so suspicious that that isn't quite good enough. If a, a genuine breeder says anything that's in anyway suspicious, they're, they're dropped. That is an unfortunate side effect, and, I, I can't think of a way around that.
[00:43:46] Bob: If you are unsure when adopting a puppy, or even just window-shopping online, you can use petscams.com as a resource.
[00:43:54] Paul Brady: So, petscams.com has I think at the moment 30--, I think about 30,000 websites listed on there. We even keep the warning on there after the website has expired because the phone numbers can be used again, or the email addresses can be used again. So you can search by either domain name. You can search by people name in some cases. What we ask is people openly give us information in the comments section at the bottom. That way it's, it's, it's available to Google. Google will index it, and we have tens of thousands of people coming on our website, and we have a lot of comments, not tens of thousands, thank, thankfully, but we try and help as many people as possible. But very often people need just a small touch to see yes, it is a scam. And, and that is enough for most people.
[00:44:49] Bob: Rochelle has advice to offer after her experience too.
[00:44:53] Rochelle Dallons: If there was somebody like me, oh, run for the police, and do not let them drop the ball. Like make sure that they know what's happening every single step of the way. And file the police report and call them all the time and bug them. I think that they really are like the rookies get it or, or it just kind of falls through the cracks and they don't follow up. And that's where you really have to be proactive and, and make sure they know what's going on and really just bug them until they have no choice but to put some effort into it, you know.
[00:45:31] Bob: So, run to the police, but also be persistent, right?
[00:45:35] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yeah, be persistent. And I tried to, you know, be a sleuth myself and tried to figure this out on my computer, because I, I just wanted them to be caught. And, and I, and I wish I knew if he was caught or not, but I doubt it, but if, if he, if he was caught, there's going to be another guy out there doing the same thing. Uh this isn't, this isn't something new, this is something that's been going on for a while, and um, it doesn't just happen with puppies, it happens all over the internet. So you really have to be careful when you're purchasing anything on the web. Especially a live animal.
[00:46:11] Bob: Well I wish you the, the rest of the time in your house hopefully makes up for this, all this incredible disturbance that you've had. I hope you have a lot of peaceful afternoons on that porch going forward now.
[00:46:22] Rochelle Dallons: Yeah, well thank you so much. This is the best house. I would never leave, so I'm very thankful for that and I'm just hoping that doing this with you will, will help other people to not fall victim to this kind of thing.
[00:46:50] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree, and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
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The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.
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