Beware of online puppy scammers! – Highland Trading Standards warns consumers.

Online classified advertisements do offer an easy and sometimes free means of advertising goods for consumers. However, they can also be a means for traders to disguise themselves as ‘private sellers’ and for bogus sellers to operate scams.

Trading Standards officers of The Highland Council are warning of one such scam which was brought to their attention by Caithness dog lover, Miss Ann Miller. 

Miss Miller was keen to buy a Siberian Husky puppy for her family and noticed an advertisement in on online classified advertisement website offering a Siberian husky, 14 weeks old, free to a good home. The advert supplied photos of the Siberian husky and described the dog as ‘adorable and strong Siberian husky seeking a loving and caring home’.

Miss Miller could not believe her luck when the advert placed the seller as being in Fort William, UK.  She initially tried to phone the seller using the mobile phone number stated in the advertisement.  However, when she dialled this number she did not receive an answer other than a recorded message informing her that the recipient of the call had hung-up. This response alarmed Miss Miller and she decided to try and contact the seller by email.

An email dialogue between Miss Miller and the ‘puppy seller’ developed.  Miss Miller further explains:  “After not being able to contact the seller by his mobile phone number, I sent the seller, through ‘global-free-ads.com’, an email and received a response the same day”.

She adds: “The seller seemed really genuine and nice and very concerned that his puppy, who he said he was selling on behalf of his sister, would be going to a good home.  He explained that he had been looking after the puppy for 10 weeks ever since he learned that his sister had been diagnosed with a life – threatening illness and has since passed away.”  

Miss Miller continued to email the seller over the following week and arrangements appeared to be going well.  Miss Miller explains: “Initially the seller promised to visit us in our home in Scrabster with the dog and was due to arrive on Thursday, 15th January 2009, only 4 days after my first email to him.  I was so looking forward to seeing the puppy and was really disappointed when at the last minute I received another email from the seller saying he could not make it as an emergency had come up. I emailed back and we re-arranged the visit for the following Saturday on 17th January. Again the seller was to visit us in our home and asked for all my contact details and directions as well as personal details such as if I was married, did I work and did I have a family.  The seller assured me that the dog had been given all its vaccinations and medical documents. He also sent me photos of the dog. I asked the seller for his mobile phone number and all seemed to be going well, when again the seller contacted me to say he could not make it.” 

Miss Miller had been let down again and this time arrangements for the dog to be sent to her home changed completely.

Miss Miller explains she became more alarmed by what followed:  “The seller contacted me by email again to say he was too busy to travel to my home with the dog and that he was arranging for the animal to be transported by courier instead and that all I had to do would be to agree to pay £121.00 up front for this cost.  When I suggested that I would pay the courier ‘Cash on Delivery’ the sellers’ attitude changed and became more insistent that I pay this fee up front. He said that I was being unrealistic by not paying this fee and that the dog could not be transported to me, otherwise. I asked him for his contact details again as I wanted to talk to him directly.  I tried to phone him on his mobile but all I got was a message stating that this phone was not accepting calls from the UK at this time.  This was a different mobile phone number from the one initially advertised in global-free-ads.com.”

Miss Miller decided to go on line again and search for the pet courier details to find out where they were based.  The pet travel agency name was given as www.worldpettravelagency.com.cc by the ‘puppy seller’.

Instead of finding a business website however she came across a travel forum messaging board where consumers based in the US outlined their experiences with this agency and warned others that this was a scam organisation and not to pay over any cash.  With alarm bells already ringing,  Miss Miller, had her suspicions confirmed further  when she saw in her local newspaper, Caithness Courier, an article outlining a ‘puppy scam’ which matched her own experiences. 

She adds: “I just could not believe it.  Luckily my instincts told me not to contact the seller again and I have heard nothing since from him.  I have also checked the websites he was advertising the puppy and these adverts have been removed.  I felt I had to report this scam to the authorities to warn other pet lovers not to be conned in this way.  I contacted Thurso Police Station who passed me on to Highland Trading Standards.   I am so glad I had not given out my payment details to this seller.”   

Alistair Thomson, The Highland Council’s Head of Environmental Services and Trading Standards, said: “Miss Miller had a lucky escape. Our message is for all consumers to be wary of giving out personal details either online or over the phone when buying goods from people they do not know.”  

Mr Thomson warned: “Consumers can loose not only cash from their bank account but may also fall victim of identity fraud.” 

In partnership with the Office of Fair Trading, the Council is warning consumers not to fall foul of bogus sellers and scammers as part of ‘Scamnesty campaign’ which runs from 2nd February 2009 to 15th February 2009.   Consumers living in the Highlands can report their scams by phoning Consumer Direct Scotland on 08454 04 05 06 who will pass on details to Highland Council Trading Standards or they can visit or write to The Highland Council Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The Scamnesty runs from 2-15 February as part of the OFT's annual Scams Awareness Month. Collected mailings will be used by participating local authority Trading Standards Services and the OFT to aid intelligence gathering or inform investigations. Highland Council Trading Standards is one of 81 trading standards services throughout the UK taking part in this campaign.  Consumers can drop off postal scams into the following Service Point Offices in Highland during this fortnight: Alness, Inverness, Hilton, Fort Augustus & Drumnadrochit, Invergordon, Wick, Dingwall, Aviemore, Thurso, Nairn, Dornoch, Golspie, Portree, Kyle, Ullapool and Muir of Ord  Alternatively consumers can send postal scams directly to Highland Council Trading Standards Service, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 IUF
2. Highland Trading Standards Service is part of Transport, Environment and Community Service, Highland Council, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.
3. Contact for further information relating to Scam Awareness Campaign: Glenys Brown, Trading Standards Officer, The Highland Council tel: 01463 228717.

10 Feb 2009
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