Puppy scammers using Covid to make more money

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Travel restrictions and strict rules on visiting have open the flood gates for scammers to take their crimes to a whole new level.

Criminals posing as dog breeders have stooped to a new low in the coronavirus pandemic, setting up dangerous scams that, in some cases, have endangered the safety of their victims.

Mum-of-four Karla Duncan had no choice but to discover this the hard way — she handed over $7500 for what she thought was a dog in November, but ended up with her identity stolen.

She only realised after being contacted by an angry woman on Facebook who accused her of being the perpetrator, and found out the scammer had been using her driver’s licence to aid with their false sales.

“I was contacted by a lady in Victoria via Messenger who actually firstly accused me of scamming her daughter with a dog,” Ms Duncan told news.com.au podcast The Dog Detective.

“And then I’m like, ‘I don’t think this is correct’. I explained to her that I’d been scammed on the Tuesday, early November, and that I’d lost $7500,” she said.

The furious woman then sent Ms Duncan a photo of her driver’s licence, confirming that it had been used as a tool by the scammer to secure the sale.

“I thought, ‘oh my god, this is just going to multiply. Who else am I going to supposedly scam?’,” she said.

The situation only worsened for Ms Duncan, with angry scam victims showing up at her home, demanding to be refunded the money they had paid for a dog that didn’t exist.

“We had a lady from Newcastle who turned up at my address. My partner was home and had to face her, she was demanding to look for me and was saying that I had scammed her a lot of money and she demanded her money back,” Ms Duncan recalled.

“I could not sleep properly at night worrying that someone’s going to turn up or they’re going to be armed or they’re going to have a rage or they’re going to believe my story face-to-face.”

Ms Duncan said she feared she would be physically assaulted by one of the angry victims if she couldn’t convince them of what had actually happened.

“I still at times ask myself, ‘is this real? Is this really happening?’.”

Not only did Ms Duncan have no idea of how long she would be contacted by furious scam victims, but she was also concerned the theft of her identity would harm her credit rating.

Five months after being scammed herself, Victoria Police showed up at her home having received several reports that she had been scamming others.

“Instead of me being a victim, I then had to explain to them that I’m a victim, I’m not a scammer,” she said.

“I really honestly felt like a criminal. I actually said, ‘you know, do you want to take me to the police station?’ I felt violated, embarrassed and scared. That was horrible,” she recalled.

Having explained the situation to police, Ms Duncan came across fellow scam victim, Sandy Trujillo on Facebook, who built an online community after being scammed in May last year.

“Scammers have become very, very good at basically tapping into the person’s emotions. And they use all the right wording, they have an excuse for every single scenario,” Sandy told the podcast.

“The more I spoke about it on social media, the more I realised there were lots of other people like me, who had also been scammed.”

She too was tricked by a fake drivers license sent by the scammer, and paid for a dog she later discovered didn’t excist.

“I went through a lot of embarrassment with friends and family who had said, ‘Sandra, you’ve always known about animals and you’ve always worked in the industry, how could you, of all people, be scammed?’,” she recalled.

She was so disturbed by her own experience that she set about making sure no one else would experience the same, setting up the Facebook page Puppy SCAM awareness AUST.

More than 13,500 people have become members since its conception, with countless people having benefited from Ms Trujillo’s advice.

“The team that I have now are so specialised that we’re having phone numbers shut down. We’re having the websites shut down. We’re putting the websites out there for people to know and check before they go and buy an animal,” she said.

“So it’s been a massive project for all of us involved. But we’re all very dedicated and the main objective is to save people from being scammed.”

The Dog Detective is news.com.au’s new six part podcast series lifting the lid on the complicated world of dog detectives, and the dark side of the pet community in Australia

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