Puppy-buying scams on the rise around the holidays, BBB warns

Victims targeted online
Posted at 7:24 PM, Nov 09, 2018

DENVER — A Denver couple that drove to Little Rock, Arkansas to pick up three puppies purchased online, is now warning others about a pet scam that cost them hundreds of dollars.

Breckenridge and Mary Lynn Grover love French bulldogs. They had two until September when their beloved “Derby” died.

“He’d eaten supper and went outside,” Breckenridge Grover said. “I heard a scream, went downstairs and saw him lying down.”

He said he tried to resuscitate the dog.

“He died in my arms of a heart attack,” he said.

The couple told KMGH that with Derby gone, their other French bulldog, Liza Jane, became listless and depressed.

Last month, they decided to look online for a new dog, as a companion for Liza Jane.

Seller pours on the charm

They found a pug in Austin. Mary Lynn Grover said the owner asked them to send money via the Zelle app.

They hadn’t used it before but thought they’d give it a try, then had second thoughts.

“We did everything,” she said. “Wells Fargo was wonderful getting things back, saying ‘I think this guy chickened out. He didn’t even have a Zelle account.’ ”

The Grovers continued their search, trying to be more cautious the second time around.

They found three French bulldogs via online advertisements and said the seller poured on the charm.

“He said, ‘Now you are part of my family. These were my mother’s puppies.’ He even sent us a picture of the kennel he was buying for us and said, ‘I will make dinner.’ I mean he knew me as a soft spot. He said all the right things to me.”

The Denver couple drove to Arkansas. But halfway there they received a phone call.

“He said, ‘Oh, by the way, could you also pick up a gift card at Walmart?’ ”

Mary Lynn said that’s when the red flags went up.

She said they didn’t pick up a gift card; they just kept driving.

“I texted him, saying ‘We’re coming.’ We got to the house; it’s dark,” she said.

There was no answer at the door, so Mary Lynn Grover called the two numbers they had for the seller, who said his name was Bill Todd.

“A woman answered and asked, ‘How did you get this number?’ I described what happened. She said, ‘he did the exact same thing to me, for $750,’ ” she said. 

The Grovers said they are working with the Arkansas Attorney General, Better Business Bureau and Little Rock Police Department.

BBB response

“A lot of scams are tricky and hard to understand,” said Ezra Coopersmith, the investigations coordinator at the Better Business Bureau. “This one isn’t. It just stinks.”

Coopersmith said there are more scams reported around the holidays because pets are often given as gifts.

He added that scammers will often try to squeeze their victims for more cash by charging for shipping the fake pets.

Second victim

Aurora, Colorado resident Ronald Mills said he was told the $400 he paid for a pug he found on Craigslist for his grandson would cover shipping charges.

He later received an email saying it would cost $1,000 to ship third class, $1,100 to ship second class and $1,200 to ship first class.

“I called (the seller) and said, ‘I guess I’m not getting the dog and you scammed me,’ ” Mills said. “I said, ‘this is a scam.’ He said, ‘Oh sir, this is not a scam. I’m a good Christian.’ He wasn’t a Christian.”

BBB advice

Coopersmith said people purchasing pets should follow these guidelines:

  • Always meet the pet and pet owner in person
  • Don’t pay until you’ve met
  • Pay with a method that has fraud protection
  • File a report if you’ve been scammed

“That’s the best way for the BBB or law enforcement to know what’s going on and to educate communities about how to avoid this type of scam,” Coopersmith said.