(WXYZ) — Just a few months into the pandemic, the Better Business Bureau was warning us about a rise in puppy scams.
More than a year later, it continues to be a problem.
In the last six months, local consumers reported 48 puppy scams to the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan. Those scams resulted in about $67,000 in losses.
In the last three months, 19 of those scams were reported that added up to nearly $31,250 in losses.
A woman from White Lake Township knows about this all too well. She got scammed in September of 2021.
Hollie Kotwicki was hooked after seeing a puppy on the MyTeaCupChihuahuaPuppies.com website. She said she fell in love with one of the dogs right away.
"When I looked at the puppies, 'Brandon' was perfect."
The website claimed the three 10-week-old Chihuahua puppies could be shipped worldwide from this self-described "trusted and reputable breeder" offering American Kennel Club registered pups that were all reportedly "vet-checked."
Kotwicki said she talked or texted with the alleged breeder several dozen times.
She made a deposit through Zelle, hitting her daily limit. The guy then asked her to set up a different Zelle account through another bank to pay the rest, but Chase stopped the payment notifying her that it was fraud.
The next day, the site's so-called "shipping department" contacted her saying she could upgrade for an air-conditioned transport crate for her new puppies, and she could charge it all.
"So, it would have been another 45-hundred dollars out of pocket, and they would have my name, address, credit card information, phone number," Kotwicki said. "I was mad. I was really mad," she added.
Lt. Matthew Ivory with the White Lake Township Police Department said these scammers live to the dark net and it's hard to track them down.
“Scams artists use virtual private networks so it makes tracking their IP addresses so hard. They literally could be anywhere in the world. So, tracking it down would be – it’s near impossible," he said.
Kotwicki reported the fraud to the police and the Better Business Bureau.
“We have seen from 2017 to 2020, puppy scams have grown six times more than 2017. And the loss in 2020 is estimated at over a $3 million. That is a lot of money for a non-existent dog," BBB Eastern Michigan President & CEO Melanie Duquesnel said.
As for the three puppies in this case, they remain "available" a month after Kotwicki was scammed.
"They're still 10 weeks [old], which is amazing. They haven’t changed," Kotwicki chuckled pointing to the web page.
Fortunately, she was able to adopt two real pups from a reputable Michigan breeder.
In all, she said they lost the initial deposit of $1,000.
"There's nothing I can do to get the money back, but I called you because I trust the way that you would portray this story. I'm not embarrassed that I lost it. I'm more upset that it could happen again, and there's no way to prevent it," explained Kotwicki.
White Lake Township Police and the BBB recommend several steps to avoid a puppy scam.
- Arrange to see the puppy in person before you buy
- If you can't visit the breeder yourself, ask them to bring the puppy to meet you at a safe location (i.e. Police Department parking lot or lobby)
- If that won't work, ask for a virtual meeting via FaceTime or video conferencing
- Look for bad grammar or misspellings in emails or texts
- Consider adopting from a local shelter or a breeder closer to home