Austin, Texas – His name was Leo and his future family was pretty excited.
“We had a Shiba Inu in 2019, and we kind of got over the fact that we had lost our pup, so we started looking for a new one,” said Georgetown resident Ricardo Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said they shopped in person but the prices were too high.
“So I searched online and found a place on Google that was pretty cheap for a puppy,” he said. “I was a little nervous at first, but seeing that it was a Google ad I thought it was legitimate.”
Gonzalez followed the ad and eventually got on the phone with a man named “Frank.” They started texting back and forth about Leo, discussing what payment method to use and how he would get to Texas. Gonzalez was given a cell account name and phone number to transfer money to.
Gonzalez said he was cautious and even researched the address on the seller’s website, but it appeared legit.
“So I sent the $500,” Gonzalez said. “He said he would be in touch in the next few days to organize the pup’s flight because it was shipped to me from Omaha.”
Then there was some delay and some weird text conversations. Gonzalez did a little more research online.
“I came across a site called Puppyscam.com and on that site it listed that site as a puppy scam,” Gonzalez said. “It said the day I was supposed to receive the dog I would get a text or email from the shipping company saying there were problems with the airline, that the crate would be too small or that something was wrong and that I would have to pay extra money to get the dog.”
That’s exactly what happened, and Gonzalez officially realized Leo doesn’t exist. The person coordinating the sale stopped responding to text messages.
“These scams usually follow the same pattern,” said Jason Meza, senior regional director for San Antonio, Better Business Bureau, which serves the heart of Texas.
According to Meza, it often starts with a person researching a specific breed online. Then they might come across a sponsored, official-looking ad. Eventually, the scammer has the person on the hook for hundreds of dollars.
“The scam is actually the shipping, the delivery method to get it to you,” Meza said. “They will tell you the pet is stuck in an airport, or they will tell you the pet needs a new crate or food insurance to continue the journey.”
Online purchase scams remain the most common type of scam reported to the BBB scam tracker, accounting for approximately 30% of all reported scams in 2022.
In online shopping scams, pets and pet supplies are the most popular products used as bait.
In 2022, there were 16 reported victims in Austin alone who lost a total of $6,538 to these scams.
“We have trusted our sellers and breeders a lot during COVID,” Meza said. “Now that we’re sort of recovering from that, we need to get back into personal contact and really see if we can see or meet the dog and the breeder in person.”
If that’s not possible, ask to see a video or FaceTime, which is more difficult to replicate than a photo. Other red flags to watch out for are: a heavy discount on an expensive breed, or the seller refusing to accept a credit card and instead requiring payment via cell or gift card.
Gonzalez said he and his family have not had a new puppy since the November cheat. He hopes his experience can be a lesson to others.
“We were hoping to have a puppy for our kids just before Christmas, so I felt cheated and taken advantage of,” he said. “Just do your due diligence, keep researching and if you find something that seems too good to be true, it most likely is.”