Internet Fraud: Puppies latest commodity for Nigerian scams
By DAVID COLKER | LA Times
July 8, 2007
And now for the latest scam from Nigeria * puppies.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus and American Kennel Club have issued a warning about fraudulent Web sites, MySpace postings and print ads asking people to help save puppies who are in desperate straits.
The sites and ads usually show adorable bulldog puppies that have become stuck somehow in Nigeria or other countries and are offered free to new owners. A variation is to offer the purebred, English bulldogs * a particularly expensive breed * at vastly discounted prices.
People who responded to the ads eventually were asked to send hundreds of dollars to cover expenses such as shipping, customs, taxes and inoculations on an ever escalating scale.
Some reported paying fees totaling more $1,500.
ItӒs like the Nigerian advance-fee scams weve been seeing for years, except with the face of a puppy,Ҕ said Steve Cox, a council vice president.
No matter how much was paid, no puppies arrived.
Even the pictures * showing sad-eyed puppies with folds of skin so loose it looked as if they were wearing bunched up sweaters * probably were fraudulent, mostly lifted from legitimate sites of unwitting dog owners.
Which leads to the only good news about the situation.
When people hear about these scams involving pups, they get so upset for the poor dogs,Ӕ said Alison Preszler, spokeswoman for the council.
But at least I can say to them, ӑThere are no real puppies involved. Its all a fake.Ғ
The problem is real and growing. In the last couple of months local bureaus across the country increasingly have been getting complaints, Cox said.
In April, a Manhattan woman was charged with grand larceny for collecting fees for English bulldog puppies online and then not delivering them. She allegedly told local investigators she shared the proceeds with a Nigerian accomplice.
There are several variations on the scheme.
The ad that caught the attention of Tracy Braswell of Pittsburgh was in the ԓfree section of a local, online classified ads site. It told of a puppy that would bring ԓmuch love and joy to a home, and it showed four pictures.
ԓHow could you not fall in love, Braswell said.
She wrote to the e-mail address and received a long reply. The puppy was in excellent health, playful, wonderful with children and a registered purebred, she was told.
But the woman who placed the ad recently had moved from the United States to Cameroon, adjacent to Nigeria, and the dog was suffering because of the climate. ԓI love her so much, the woman wrote, that she was willing to give her away.
For a $160 shipping fee.
Daisy Okas, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club that registers purebred dogs, said the ad and e-mail raised several red flags.
ԓIts very unusual that someone would be giving away a purebred puppy,Ҕ Okas said. Maybe an older dog. But puppies are coveted.Ӕ
English bulldog puppies commonly sell for $1,200 to $3,000.
Another problem was shipping over a long distance.
These dogs are not built like athletes,Ӕ Okas said. They were bred to be companions for the most part.Ӕ
The shipping fee probably would have been only the starting point. The way this scam works is that once a fee is paid, another is quickly requested. And because the person vying for the dog already has money invested, often its paid.
Braswell, 34, didnҒt get that far. She got suspicious after asking for details about the puppys health.
The woman in Cameroon wrote back that the dog came with a ғone year shipping guarantee, that would provide a refund if there were health problems. Or Braswell could choose a puppy ԓfrom the next litter.
ThatԒs when Braswell cut off communication. What was she doing breeding puppies if the climate was not good for this one?Ӕ she asked.
Elizabeth Burch of Marysville, Wash., did send money. She had been looking for an English bulldog puppy as a surprise gift for Fathers Day.
The one she spotted online was in a straight-forward ad, but the price was a bargain * $800.
After several e-mails, which included health certifications and copies of registration papers, she wired the money as instructed to Cameroon.
But her mother was suspicious. ғShe called a breeder in a nearby city and told her the story, Burch said. ԓThe breeder told her, There is no dog. Call the AKC right away.ђ
Burch, 26, rushed home on her lunch hour and called to cancel the wired money. She was in luck * the funds had not been picked up in Cameroon and she got a full refund.
The seller sent her an angry e-mail, saying she had caused him great shame. ԓI wrote back, saying he should be ashamed of himself for using such a beautiful animal to scam people.
Kim McDonald of Gallipolis, Ohio wanted an English bulldog for her son. Together they looked over online ads, finally narrowing their choices to three.
McDonald, 41, e-mailed them. ԓThey told me they were at a conference in Nigeria, said McDonald.
She and her son chose a puppy named Emma being offered for free. McDonald sent $350 to cover all costs, including shipping. They were told that flight information would be forthcoming.
But instead came an e-mail asking for $200 more for customs fees to clear the puppy through London.
McDonald had been told the puppy was coming from a breeder in Tennessee. Only the so-called ԓagent was in Nigeria.
She called the designated breeder, who told her that operation didnԒt handle English bulldogs at all.
McDonald e-mailed the agent,Ӕ asking for her money back. There was no reply.
She was dismayed and not just about being scammed.
We had gotten so excited about this little puppy that was coming,Ӕ she said. We were so sad.Ӕ
So, with her ex-husband agreeing to split the bill, she went to a legitimate local breeder and got an English bulldog puppy. The cost * $1,600.
Beware ads like this
Ads like this on Fort Worth Weeklys Web site and others, including MySpace, offered puppies for free or huge discounts from Nigeria. The result was money lost and hearts broken:
Lovely puppy needs loving home
Lovely English bulldog puppy needing a loving and caring home, full of wrinkles, she is vet and up to date on all her shots. Fine with kids and other pets, AKC and will come along with all her papers and toys, she will make the best house pet, will bring much love and joy to your home or family. Contact for more if you want to add her to your family.