A Brevard couple who wanted to buy a Teacup Yorkie online ended up losing $500 to a scammer who claimed to be a stay-at-home mom from Jacksonville.
How the scam happened
Connie and Tim Bolen were heartbroken after their 10-year-old Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, Buddy, was diagnosed with diabetes and had to be put down. To cheer themselves up, they decided to look for a new puppy online.
They found a website that advertised Teacup Yorkies for sale and contacted the seller, who identified herself as Sharon Milan. She sent them an email with photos and videos of the puppies, saying they were 11 weeks old and weighed less than a kilogram.
She also invited them to visit the puppies in Jacksonville, but never gave them an address. Instead, she said she would ship the puppy by air delivery to Brevard County, which is about two and a half hours away by car.
The Bolens agreed to pay $500 for the puppy and wired the money to her. However, they soon received another message from the supposed delivery company, asking for more money for insurance and vaccination fees.
That’s when they realized they had been scammed. Their bank refused to let them wire more money and they never heard from Sharon Milan again.
How to avoid online pet scams
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), online pet scams are very common and account for 80% of sponsored pet ads. The scammers use photos and videos of cute animals to lure people into paying deposits without seeing the pets in person.
The BBB offers six tips to avoid becoming a victim of a pet scam:
- Do your research. Only purchase from a reputable dealer. Check BBB Business Profiles on BBB.org for complaints and customer reviews before you make the purchase.
- Don’t buy a pet without seeing it in person. If that isn’t possible, request a live video call to view the animal, meet the breeder, and evaluate the facility.
- Avoid wiring money or using gift cards or prepaid debit cards. These are common methods used by scammers because they are hard to trace and recover. Use a credit card or a secure payment platform instead.
- Be wary of low prices. If the price of a pet is significantly lower than the market value, it could be a red flag. Compare prices with other sellers and ask for detailed information about the pet’s health, history, and pedigree.
- Report any suspicious activity. If you encounter a potential pet scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or your local law enforcement agency.
- Consider adopting from a local shelter or rescue group. There are many animals in need of loving homes that you can meet in person before adopting. You can also save money on fees and support a good cause.
How the Bolens are coping
The Bolens said they were devastated by the scam and felt like they had lost another dog. They said they wanted to share their story to warn others about the dangers of online pet scams.
They also said they still hope to find a Teacup Yorkie someday, but they will be more careful and do more research before buying one.
They said they still miss Buddy, who was their loyal companion for 10 years. They said he was smart, playful, and affectionate.
“He was our baby,” Connie Bolen said.