Puppy scam bites unwary TheStar.com - GTA - Puppy scam bites unwary
Mississauga woman who paid $500 latest victim of global fraud promising `free’ dogs
September 19, 2007
A Mississauga woman says she’s embarrassed and angry that she forked out more than $500 to get a “free puppy” from Nigeria, but wants to go public with her story to prevent others from making the same mistake.
“I really got sucked in. I feel so gullible,” Anita Hagerman, 44, said yesterday.
Even though the 11-week-old Yorkie was advertised as free, Hagerman last week complied with requests for three payments, totalling $500, to ship the dog to Toronto from Nigeria.
Her suspicion was aroused when she was asked for a fourth payment of $100 after being told the dog had become ill and required a shot before it could make the trip.
“I’ve been taken, I know I have. It’s a sad thing when people take advantage of others,” she said.
“I want to let other people know what’s going on,” she added.
Hagerman is the latest victim in a worldwide “free puppy” scam originating from Nigeria. Scammers are placing ads online and in newspapers for popular breeds such as Yorkshire terriers and English bulldogs. They request hundreds of dollars in shipping fees, but the dogs are never sent.
“The dogs don’t exist,” said Lee Oliver, spokesperson for the Toronto Humane Society. "I would characterize these people as vultures. They take advantage of deep-felt emotions that we have for dogs and cats in this world.
“They are definitely keyed in to taking advantage of people who don’t have the money to do it through normal channels,” Oliver said.
Oliver described it as an international scheme, noting it has appeared in newspapers and online across Canada. Indeed, the society issued a warning about the scam in April after seeing an ad in the free Toronto weekly 24. He said he’s heard about one other GTA resident who responded to it.
The online ad that Hagerman responded to was on LiveDeal.ca, which she accessed through the *Toronto Star *website. It came complete with a picture of a Yorkie pup in a white basket. The ad stated:
“GORGEOUS YORKSHIRE TERRIER FOR FREE GRAB HER NOW!!!”
The ad stated the dog is friendly with children and other animals, it needs a “God-fearing” home and “she is going to make you happy.”
Hagerman responded to the ad on Sept. 10. She sent an email saying she was interested in the dog and later that day she got a phone call from Nigeria from a man who said his name was Paul. He said he and his wife worked as missionaries and weren’t able to keep the dog, which he referred to as “his baby.”
He said he would send the dog by air to Toronto but she would have to pay the $200 shipping fee. Hagerman wired the money via Western Union on Tuesday morning.
Paul called later that day, saying the airline required $250 to put the dog in a crate. Once again, Hagerman complied.
Then Paul called on Wednesday, saying he needed another $50 to change the dog’s ownership. Hagerman sent more money.
She paid $16 for each wire transfer.
“By the middle of the week, I was starting to get suspicious because he was asking for a little bit here, a little bit there,” she said.
Each time she wired money, she was promised she could pick up the dog at the airport the next day.
The last straw came on Wednesday night, when Paul told her he needed another $100, explaining that “my baby needs a needle.”
When she balked, he told her she could forget about getting the dog.
When the *Star *contacted Paul in Nigeria yesterday, he said if Hagerman didn’t make one last payment, “she’s not getting the baby.”
He got angry when asked if he was trying to steal Hagerman’s money.
“Are you trying to call me a scam? I’m a family man,” he said. “I am a man of God. I am a missionary.”
He said his family couldn’t care for the dog and they couldn’t find a home for it in Africa.
“Me and my family don’t have enough time for baby … I want a good Christian home for my baby … I love this baby,” he said.
Before angrily hanging up on a reporter, Paul asked: “Why all these questions? Why are you accusing?”
Hagerman called Peel Regional Police, who referred her to PhoneBusters, the anti-fraud call centre operated by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It collects information on the so-called “Nigerian letter” scam, which involves bogus emails offering large sums of cash if the recipients help launder money.
“It sounds like this is a new spin on the Nigerian letter scam,” Peel Const. Adam Minnion said of the “free puppy” scheme. “This type of scam is becoming more prevalent.”
On its website, LiveDeal Canada warns consumers against making out-of-country purchases.