A B.C. man is warning others after falling prey to an online scam targeting would-be puppy owners.
Ted Hamilton lives in Ashcroft, B.C., and is on a limited income due to disability.
So when he saw an online ad offering a free beagle puppy, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.
It turns out, it was.
After some back and forth via text message, Hamilton arranged to travel to Prince George to meet the supposed owner — who never showed up.
Instead, the scammer asked Hamilton to buy a $150 gift card and text it to them to cover the cost of transferring the puppy to his name.
They then claimed the dog had just had its shots and needed a rest, and the exchange would happen the following day.
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“And then that day came and they said, ‘No, sorry, our daughter is really sick with cancer and we’re in Calgary. And can you give us $450 to ship the dog?’ And I said, ‘No, I can’t afford that,'” Hamilton told Global News.
Hamilton did end up transferring more money — bringing the total to $500 — at which point he got an email, supposedly from a shipping company, asking him to pay $2,000 for a crate to ship the dog, which he was told he’d be refunded when it arrived.
“I said there’s no way I can pay $2,000 on my disability, that’s way too much.”
Hamilton eventually went to the RCMP, who told him he had likely been scammed and probably wouldn’t see his money again.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says Hamilton isn’t alone, and has issued a public warning about the scam.
The organization said it has received six reports from people who had been scammed out of $500 through a website called eClassifieds4u.com advertising free beagle puppies.
The scammer sometimes uses the name Jones Walker and claims to reside in Prince George, using the phone number 787-986-0856, it said.
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Just as in Hamilton’s case, the scammer then asks for gift cards to cover the costs of transfers and shipping, followed by a demand for between $1,500 and $2,000 for a shipping crate that would allegedly be refunded.
BBB spokesperson Karla Davis says the scammer sticks to text messages and uses multiple excuses to explain delays.
“In some of the reports that we received … the guy was saying that he had a daughter in a hospital in Calgary or that, you know, the dogs just got an injection or some shot,” she said.
“That’s what caused the consumers to get suspicious, and some of them even went to Prince George, to the address that they received, and found out that no one was there and that the address doesn’t even exist.”
The BBB says it has received more than 600 reports of online puppy scams across North America since the beginning of the year, with some victims losing as much as $5,200.
It says people should never commit to buying an animal without seeing it in person, never pay with gift cards, e-transfers, money orders or wire transfers, and should research how much a dog is actually worth before committing.
It says people should also try reverse-searching images of pets listed in online ads to see if they are used elsewhere.
As for Hamilton, he says he’s considering hiring a private investigator, and said the entire experience has been a painful lesson.
“Never gonna do that again.”
-With files from Robyn Crawford