Last week I got a voicemail from a woman—we’ll call her Doreen—asking for help with a “problem buying puppies on Craigslist.” Her story was sad. A disabled Phoenix resident, she’d found some puppies she wanted to buy on Craigslist from a man in Maryland. The price: $2,500 for two puppies. I don’t know what kind. Trying to be smart, Doreen told this guy that, because she didn’t want to be scammed, she would send half the money up front, the rest when she got the puppies. According to Doreen, he said, “no scam here, that’s fine.” After sending $1,250, Doreen got a call from the man saying he needed another $500 to ship the puppies. Doreen sent $500. “I was supposed to have the puppies today,” she said. “But I got a call from the shipping company, or supposed shipping company, saying I needed to pay $850 for insurance. I don’t know what to do. I don’t have that money. I need advice.”
Some of you may recognize signs of a scam right away. If you don’t, you should when you learn that everyone involved insisted that Doreen send the money via Western Union. But set aside the knowing smiles for a minute and consider how the scam works. Doreen is disabled and lonely. She is looking for friendship and hoped to find it in the puppies. The Maryland man had found something Doreen cared about and was offering it. We’re all susceptible to this kind of ruse. Think of the part of you that wonders if the email from the Nigerian prince might possibly be real. My 85 year old grandma got scammed by people claiming to need money to put her grandchild on a plane home from Europe. She was vulnerable because she cared.
Hopefully, we can set our emotions enough to the side when considering whether to send money via Western Union to a man selling cute puppies. But what do you do when you’re Doreen? My advice was to stop sending money. She wanted so badly to believe that the puppies were in the crate. Doreen had even asked for the shipping company’s address and looked them up on Google Maps. “It looks just like kind of apartment buildings,” she said, “but I don’t know, maybe that’s what businesses look like in Maryland.” In a way, Doreen was fortunate, she was running out of cash and knew that, if she sent this other amount, she was going to be in real trouble. So she went looking for advice she didn’t want to confirm her fears. “I’m afraid you need to get out,” I said. “They were looking for someone to take advantage of, and they found you. But you need to stop sending them money.”
“But what if he sues me in Maryland?” she worried. “I can’t deal with a problem out there. And I gave him my address and my phone number and all of that.”
“Then you call me,” I answered. “But I don’t think he will.”
It was a sad conversation. The good news is that she didn’t lose more money than she had already lost. What I didn’t realize is that puppy and other Craigslist pet scams aren’t just poor Doreen’s problem. Look at Cockatoo Lover’s story from 2010.
The last question is about Doreen’s money. She’s down $2,100. Can she do anything about it? The answer is yes, but it’s probably not worth it. Just the cost of filing a lawsuit, assuming the scammer has subjected himself to jurisdiction in Arizona, and getting it served in Maryland is likely to cost, on the cheap, another $300—not counting any legal fees. Unfortunately, this is not a case that makes sense to pursue, which is why scammers abound.
So watch out for scams. Help your friends and loved ones watch out for scams. And if you get duped, stop the bleeding and get out … as soon as you can.