BALTIMORE — After her dog passed away, Lori Hayes was hoping to offset the heartbreak with a new puppy. She found a photo of a 10-week-old black pug named Barbie on a site called “Classic Pug Family” and instantly fell in love.
“They wouldn’t take credit card, they would only take Zelle or gift cards. So at this point, I’m desperate, I sent them the money. It was $650 for the dog and $250 for shipping. I sent it through Zelle, so they had $900,” Hayes said.
Two days later, she received an urgent email from the business.
“Saying they need an additional $680 because it’s summertime that they needed to ship the dog in an air-conditioned crate,” said Hayes. “I want this dog, so I Zelle them the money.”
She receives the transport information and flight number, then another urgent message.
“Stating there are customs fees for the dog at JFK airport. I think that was $1,500,” Hayes recalled.
Hayes called John F. Kennedy International Airport, and a worker confirmed that no fee like that existed. The seller, however, wasn’t letting up.
“They said your dog is stuck in the pound, it’s not getting food, it’s not getting taken care of, the conditions are horrible at the airport and it’s your fault because you’re not paying this $15,00 fee that the airport had supposedly implemented, on top of the $1,700-1,800 I already paid them,” Hayes said.
Hayes didn’t send any more money, and the scammer stopped responding. And since Hayes authorized the transactions, she was unable to recoup any of the money she sent through Zelle.
“I’m thinking I’m getting a pug, my hopes were so high that someone would knock on the door with a new puppy, and it was just a scam,” said Hayes.
Puppy scams cost consumers an estimated $3 million last year, according to a study by the Better Business Bureau.
“Starting with COVID, puppy scams have been prolific and one of our top scams for nearly two years, “ said Angie Barnett, president and CEO with the Better Business Bureau serving greater Maryland.
She added that an easy way to vet pet sites is to use the photos they post.
“Do a reverse Google image search and see how many other websites are using that particular photo,” Barnett said.
Also, look at contact information and the business address.
Classic Pug Family claimed to be in Pasadena, Maryland. The same address is linked to a website selling Boston Terrier Puppies. However, a resident at the location confirmed to the BBB that they have nothing to do with either business.
And while Hayes is out nearly $2,000, she’s moved on with some help from Luna, her new puppy.
“You know, my heart is full again. I have my dog, but I really want to caution anyone, everyone, please please, please do your homework,” said Hayes.
Hayes met Luna in-person, so she knew she wasn’t getting scammed again.
If you’re looking to add a pet, visit your local rescue or animal shelter.
The American Kennel Club also has a local breeder search function.