THE Chronicle's Susan Hartland is one of the victims of a scam that has been growing since the outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year. This is her story.
LAST week, I was taken in by a scammer.
And in the wake of finding out the truth, in the wake of understanding all the warning signs I ignored, I feel stupid. I feel ashamed. I feel broke.
I've been looking for a puppy this entire year and am on waiting lists with those amazing legitimate breeders out there.
Last week, upset about my father's return to hospital, I looked further online and came upon a site that actually had nine-week old puppies and if you can't pick them up from Perth, they can fly them to you.
(Lesson one: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.)
I filled in a form and soon received an email from "Ivy-Joy". It included this:
"Honestly, I don't breed and sell puppies for a living because I have a stable job. I have always been a good lover to puppies. I adopted their parents for some couple of years back and because everyone admired them so I decided to breed them."
It sounded like a real response from a real person.
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The scammer then asked questions to determine if I was a suitable puppy owner.
The questions answered, "Mrs Joy" declared she and her husband had decided I was suitable.
I'd passed the puppy test. Make that the "sucker test". Top marks for that.
When I expressed interest in "Sam", a golden/red-haired pup aged nine months, the scammers provided more pictures and video of Sam.
They also provided a very detailed rundown of transportation procedures.
The details, the video, the testimonials on the site supposedly from people who'd received puppies from "Mrs Joy" all made it sound genuine.
I was duly asked for a deposit, part of which would be used for registration and the transportation.
When I failed to pay overnight, I got a reminder about "did I still want the puppy" and I had not paid as "promised".
Alarm bells should have been going off now, but they weren't. I was excited and elated about the prospect of the puppy turning up at the door, or at least at Wellcamp Airport. I started envisaging how it would be taking the dog for a walk, or playing with it.
The following day, the scammers declared the transport company was coming to pick up "Sam".
I paid over the balance, using PayPal (which was useless regarding refunds).
"Mrs Joy" then said she'd update me the next day about the flights etc.
Of course, the next day, numerous emails went unanswered. Because there is no Mrs Joy. There's no breeder who "honestly … doesn't breed puppies because she has a stable job".
There's no cute "Sam" on his way to Toowoomba from Perth.
There was only me, pathetically waiting for his arrival with new dog bowls, beds, toys, and food. They've now gone into a cupboard because I can't bear to look at them.
Clever friends soon found this site on a dog lover's page warning about scams. There were hundreds of them, sites for all sorts of dogs.
They also pointed out what I'd overlooked: The site had no ABN and no breeder identification number, though they claimed they belonged to various dog organisations.
The site had only been set up this year.
In hindsight, it was so clear something wasn't right. The paypal name I paid to was different to the name of the person I was dealing with. The responses to my emails didn't answer my questions.
Why didn't I see it? Was it because I so desperately wanted the dog, especially given my sadness because of my dad's poor health?
So I'm writing this, still ashamed and feeling like a fool, in the hope that it stops someone else from falling into a scammer's lure.
This is what I learnt. Look for ABNs and other forms of identification, including clear addresses and phone numbers.
If it's like a dream come true, then it's probably a scam.
Go with your gut. If something, even the slightest thing feels off, there might be a reason you're feeling like that.
And hardest of all, particularly where puppies are concerned, look for those wonderful legitimate breeders out there (there are some great ones), and think with your head and not just your heart.