Jean Dawn* was trying to buy a puppy for her daughter Julie, 23.
But in the search for the blue heeler of her dreams, the Sydney mother would lose hundreds of dollars.
Dawn, 61, was duped twice by scammers using variations of a common impersonation scam which preys on the heartstrings and the excitement of animal lovers.
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The first time was quick, and red flags were missed from the get-go — the scammer, pretending to rehome a puppy, reached out to Dawn on social media in July.
“I was thinking, I did want to buy a puppy. How’d you know that?” Dawn told 7NEWS.com.au of the initial encounter.
The scammer asked her to transfer the funds on PayPal using the platform’s “friends and family” payment type, which is considered a “personal payment” and not covered by PayPal purchase protection.
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“I had never used that, so I got caught in the midst of it,” Dawn said, after sending money a second time when the scammer claimed a payment error had occurred.
After faint and static calls with the scammer left Dawn frustrated and confused, she realised she had been scammed.
So she gave up and moved on — her bank account $400 lighter.
But her determination to arrange the perfect pet for her daughter remained strong, and she reached out to another person claiming to rehome a blue heeler puppy.
This seller was, unfortunately, also a scammer.
And this one offered detailed backstories, fake company names, and consistent communication on Facebook Messenger, stringing Dawn on for days with fake images and videos of the dog she thought would soon be hers.
They gave Dawn a Commonwealth Bank account to transfer the first payment, and an NAB account for a second transaction when “something went wrong” with the first.
Then they requested a list of her personal details, and gave her a fake address in the NSW village of Huskisson to collect the dog.
Dawn drove nearly three hours to the fake address the following Saturday, only to be met with several frantic messages from the scammer claiming their mother was dying in a hospice and that they would instead deliver the dog using a courier service.
Emails impersonating a legitimate transport company were sent to Dawn with a tracking number, while the scammer continued to request an additional $1000 payment for refrigerated crates for safe transportation.
Manipulative messages and emails from fake businesses were just some of the tactics used by the scammers. Credit: Supplied
That’s when the penny dropped for Dawn — as a decades-long pet owner, she knew that an animal-specific courier service would be required for such a move.
She did a Google search of the company’s ABN, which revealed the courier did not exist.
It was then that the true nature of messages sent by the scammers became clear.
Among insinuations she would be “abandoning” the puppy, five words stood out; when she was asked if she “wanted to work this out”.
Dawn was, at this stage, out of pocket as much as $1000.
Her claims for reimbursement from both PayPal and the Commonwealth Bank were initially unsuccessful.
But Dawn said anyone left in her position should follow one tip — contact the ombudsman.
After lodging reports with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) she said PayPal refunded one payment of $200, stolen via the platform, the same night.
The Commonwealth Bank and NAB also reimbursed Dawn several hundred dollars each “as a goodwill gesture”, leaving her out of pocket just $300.
“Once the ombudsman comes into it, they panic,” Dawn said.
“It only takes about five or six minutes to put (the report) through.”
In a risky move, Dawn made a third attempt at purchasing a puppy on Gumtree and, luckily, was able to successfully rehome a blue heeler called Loki.
Dawn made a police report and sent all the details of her experience to Puppy Scam Awareness Australia, which she said organised for the scammer’s page to be taken down.
But Companion Animal Network Australia (CANA) CEO Patricia Ennis wouldn’t trust many things sold online through unauthorised channels.
Heartstrings and excitement
Ennis says heartstrings and excitement are “exactly what these people are working on. Beautiful pictures, and heartbreaking stories”.
There are several precautions and considerations she would advise for animal lovers looking online to rehome an animal.
“You need to sight the pet, not online, before you hand over money,” she said.
In addition, investigating certain elements of the ads, including business phone numbers, breeds and images, can also help to identify red flags.
Fake images can often be identified by reverse-image searching pictures that are advertised.
“Most of the time, that same picture will turn up in other places,” Ennis said.
“If you see (an advertisement) from a rescue place, do a separate search for the direct phone number.
“Check the description of the pet. (Scammers) often can’t tell the difference between a Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier. Do your research.”
Ennis also noted that ethical rehoming sources “will interview you on your eligibility as a potential owner.”
“The others will just go to the money,” she said.
* real name has been changed to protect her identity.
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