5 On Your Side

Don't fall for that cute picture! 5 On Your Side warns of puppy scam surge

Posted December 10, 2020 6:15 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2020 6:34 p.m. EST

Pet sales over the internet can lead to too many broken hearts and too many drained bank accounts. A victim of a common scam shared her story with 5 On Your Side to keep others from falling for it.

The scam started with an irresistible picture.

"All I saw was that cute little puppy," said Rachael Hicks.

According to the Facebook post, that adorable little Maltipoo was for sale. Wanting a friend for her current dog Itzy, Hicks reached out. The price: $400 plus $150 for shipping.

"My husband says `You can have that for Christmas,’ and our anniversary is the very next day, so I was like, `Yeah, that’d be great,’" said Hicks. "But, then the nightmare began."

The seller wanted more money.

First to cover travel Insurance, then food and shelter, then another shipping fee, they called a flight ticket, because of delays.

"And still no puppy, still no puppy," said Hicks. "I’m just a victim of a scam. I really believe that."

Hicks says she fell for it because the seller told her the insurance payment was refundable and provided detailed online tracking information. It included addresses — both hers and the seller’s — information about the puppy and a shipping status of pending.

Attorney General Josh Stein says Hicks’ story is all too familiar.

"We have seen, at the Department of Justice, a dramatic up-tick in the number of complaints about puppy scams," Stein told 5 On Your Side, a jump of 300% over last year.

Hicks’ was told to use payment companies Zelle and Cash App to send money, not the typical red flag of gift cards.

Ultimately, the end game is the same.

"Once the money is out of your bank account and in the hands of the criminal, it’s very difficult to get it back," said Stein.

Stein says stay local when looking for a puppy. Go see the one you want to buy in person. Legitimate breeders and animal adopters usually have questions for buyers about your home, yard, even other animals. Wake County’s Animal Center offer this list of questions to consider.

Hicks says the seller didn’t ask her for anything except money.

5 On Your Side did reach out to the seller and did not hear back.

As for Hicks, she’s out $1,800.

She can’t believe she missed the warning signs: texts in all caps, misspellings and the payment oddities.

"It’s like a web, and you feel like you’re right in the middle," said Hicks. "And then, there I am, sending them more money, like I’m under a spell or something."

A spell that still has her staring at those cute pictures..

"I’m wondering where this little puppy is, if there really was a puppy," said Hicks. "It’s heartbreaking because I’m not the only one, I’m sure, that’s done this.

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