COVID Feature: Doggone Fraudsters

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The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our daily routines, kept us distanced from friends, family and community, and increased anxiety in many lives. However, individuals who have pets enjoy the company they provide and tend to report lower levels of anxiety and stress, especially during the current pandemic. Leave it to some despicable fraudsters to take advantage of stressed out, cooped up people by luring them into their COVID-19 fraud schemes with pictures of puppies. 

A Mokena, Ill., teenager and her mother found out the hard way that what you see online is not what you get. After seeing an online advertisement for an Australian Shepherd, Jillian Hanna’s mom, Caroline, sent $250 to a seller who promised to provide a puppy named “Kate.” (However, the cute puppy with a patchwork coat and mismatched eyes never arrived.)

Caroline Hanna became suspicious after exchanging several emails with the purported breeder. Answers to her questions were contradictory, even though the seller assured her multiple times that they were not trying to exploit the pandemic. (Pay no attention to the fraudster behind the fake puppy website trying to steal your money whilst boldly lying.) Eventually, the email exchanges became fewer and died off after Caroline requested a refund. (No surprise there.)

The Hanna family reported their experience to the Better Business Bureau who shared that 371 complaints regarding dog scams were received, just in the month of April. (That’s more than 100 more than the same time last year.) A 2017 BBB report traced many of reported dog scams to Cameroon where fraudsters set up shop online and advertised popular breeds at low prices. The pictures were from the websites of real breeders, but the criminals inserted their own contact information.

The scammers typically tell their victims that the dogs they are purchasing must be shipped from a remote location. (This prevents a face-to-face meeting.) After a buyer sends in their first payment, scammers often ask for more money for additional costs such as equipment, insurance, or shots. When purchasers get an inkling that they have been ripped off, the scammers would then tell the buyers that their dog was trapped in transit and needed more money to ensure delivery.

In the Hanna’s case, the breeder claimed to be in Texas, but said the dog could be picked up in Virginia. (That’s a long way from Illinois.) Another red flag regarding the dog named “Kate” – the pup was listed as a male online. The fake breeder also required the Hanna’s to use a payment service that lacked the fraud protections of other similar services. The final clue to the bogus operation was the ownership paperwork, which was a crude-looking certificate with a stamp from a non-existent organization. (Unfortunately for this family, the doggone fraudster was not identified, and no one has been charged in the puppy scam crime.)

What’s the best way to avoid being scammed? The BBB’s 2017 report on puppy fraud recommends meeting the dog and the breeder in-person before sending money. The organization also suggested closely examining the photos and descriptions closely on the sellers’ websites and researching to see if there are other similar images on other websites. Lastly, don’t send cash via Western Union or money order to strangers. Use credit cards so you can dispute the charges. (The bottom line is that if the prices seem too good to be true, they probably are.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from an article, “A Mokena family just wanted a puppy during the pandemic. Now they’re out $250 as advocates say dog scams are on the rise.,” published by Chicago Tribune on May 12, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic presented the perfect opportunity to train a puppy at home, so 16-year-old Jillian Hanna of Mokena found an Australian shepherd online last month and her mother made arrangements to buy the dog.

Caroline Hanna said she sensed something was wrong as she traded messages with a purported representative from the business about a puppy named “Kate” with a patchwork coat and mismatched eyes. In emails Hanna shared with the Tribune, she got contradictory answers alongside an assurance that the seller wasn’t trying to exploit the pandemic.




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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.