Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Lost Pet Scam - Caller States He Found It, Asks for Transport Fees

Catastrophic Lost Pet Scam

Dear Les,

I live in Victorville, a small town in the High Desert of Southern, CA.

When my cat went missing, I placed an ad in the local newspapers, and several big color posters around the immediate neighborhood at major inlet/outlet intersections, the closest grocery store, and the local PetSmart. Of course I visited the two area shelters and called several veterinarians, my own and a couple of the 24-hour vet hospitals.

One day I received a collect call ( we're researching the point of origin of the call ) from someone who claimed to be movers who were now in Missouri, and they said they found a cat in their van.

First they asked me to describe my cat. I did, almost completely. I wish I had asked them about even one specific identifying mark, but I didn't.

When I asked how they got my number, they said they tracked back where they had been, where they had probably picked up the cat, and called the local animal shelters who gave them my number.

(I tried to confirm this a few days later--at two of the volunteer-staffed shelters the people who worked Monday weren't there, but they might have released my number. At the animal control in Victorville, "Lori" said she would have taken a number and called me, never released my number.)

This all took place Monday evening, so my hands were tied in terms of confirming where I had doubt. Because they were independent movers time was of the essence and they wanted to get back on the road. They said they were coming out our direction (apparently they crisscross the country all the time in their work) and if we could wire ahead some $ to help pay for gas.

He also said he spent $70 on a kennel and asked for specific food or treat preferences. When he mentioned diesel fuel for about 4000 miles, we balked and said, "That's around $600!!" He said, "No, no, my buddy and I will help pitch in for it, and we were thinking about $300." Then I remarked that that left nothing over for a reward, and I wanted him to have a reward for his time and trouble, so I would give more when they arrived with the cat.

I actually said that!

I did get a feeling that it might not be on the level, but they talked so nicely about my cat that I was convinced, plus I wanted so badly for it to be true. (I know everyone loves their pets, but this cat and I had a very VERY special relationship. I guess that's neither here nor there, but it adds to why I was so willing to believe.)

That's when I tried to find out WHERE specifically they had packed a house, WHAT COMPANY did they work for (none), a PHONE number where they could be reached (they were at a pay phone) and finally I asked David to ask for a driver's license and the guy got kind of offended--acted all hurt that we didn't trust him.

He said he didn't know it off-hand, it was in his truck, and he would go get it. He was away from the phone for a while and then he read off a number (twice) that amounted to zilch when it was run through the system.

I had handed the phone off to David because I couldn't understand him too well, and I thought I was confused because I was so ecstatic. If I had had even 5 minutes to think...

Anyway, I think they found me through the classifieds, they're on-line, I think, or there may be a local link who saw my posters and they work together.

I wired the $300, but the weird thing was he kept mentioning "ComCheck", which my husband says is a way for truckers to get cash for fuel on the road. Only truckers know about it. Then he talked about going to a Ralph's for Western Union. He was adamant that we use a test question. (I had never wired $ before, but apparently you can collect the money on the other end two ways--show identification OR answer a secret test question. I didn't know about the ID way until I got to the Western Union connection, where the guy behind the desk told me that THAT is what made the whole thing (to him) seem fishy.)

While I was running around town to find an open Western Union office, they called David (my husband) 4 or 5 times to check. Each time they asked whether I put the test question.

He also wanted the money sent to Roseland, ILLINOIS, and I said, "I thought you were in Missouri," and he said, "It's on the border..." The next day we learned the money was picked up from Chicago, all the way across the state north from Missouri.

The moment before sending the money I did call my husband on the cell phone to ask him if he was sure he wanted to send the money, even though it was looking fishier, but we both decided it was worth it on the chance he really had my cat. The last thing we wanted was for this hard-boiled trucker (who was really just going out of his way to do a kind deed) get fed up and abandon the cat because the whole thing was just too inconvenient.

Later I thought about all the fishiness, but really everything could be explained:

* independent mover--very popular first job out of jail (and just because he's a felon doesn't mean he's not doing a decent thing...)

* reluctant to give DL#--it's wise to be cautious with this info...

* needed cash NOW--independent moving doesn't pay well, wanted to get on road, in between assignments

* test question instead of ID--false name due to getting out of jail, ID didn't match due to same...

I don't know, it looks so clear to me now, but at the time I was so blinded by hope. It had been one week exactly since the cat went missing, and this explained everything so tidily. I was almost done with my nightly vigils and daily searches, I was grieving, but starting to accept facts, and I had to go through all of the emotional roller coaster again, this time with the added sting of having been duped.

Let me know if there's anything I can do (or write) to help spread the word. Of all the people I talked to (law enforcement, vets, shelters, friends, family, etc...) only two had heard of such a scam on the news in recent weeks--a teacher and a friend (not, interestingly, the cops or authorities). One friend said it was on Dateline, a dog was lost and the owners were asked for $500 to defray the cost of his return.

I worry that this happens often, but people are embarrassed a) to have fallen for a scam and b) to have paid out x-dollars for a pet, and drop it when it becomes clear that it was indeed a scam. Just 5-10 calls a week could net a tidy sum.

Thanks again for letting me tell you the whole, sad tale, and thank you for your kindness.


A Happy Post Script: The cat came home after 16 days, dirty, thinner, and very talkative!

Lost Item Recovery Scam

Colorado Springs Police are issuing an alert on a new scam in the area. Detectives say a man is calling people who place ads in The Gazette advertising lost property, and telling them he has their missing items.

The man claims he is a truck driver passing through the town. And tells victims to send the reward money to a Chicago address, to reclaim their property. Police say never to send money to anyone claiming to have your property.

Sergeant Dennis Dougan from the Colorado Springs Police Department said, "If it is someone legitimate they can tell the person to contact the police department. If they want to give a reward, you can get the name and phone number of a person that returned the property so the reward money can be passed on."


Dog Gone Dirty Trick

02/05 - OCALA Florida -- The Savages drove to the Gainesville airport to pick up their Boston terrier who had disappeared two weeks earlier.

But Buster never arrived.

It turned out that the Savages, like other lost-pet owners throughout the country, may have been hoodwinked by a scam artist in Atlanta, according to authorities.

On Friday, police in Georgia arrested Andre Lamont Gould, 34, on charges of theft and fraud in the Marion County cases, said Detective Art King of the Marion County Sheriff's Office. Gould was being held in an Atlanta jail on$26,000 bail. He also has been charged in some Atlanta cases.

The Sheriff's Office said Gould confessed Friday to conducting the scam in the past few months. He provided detectives with victim's names in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and California.

According to detectives, Gould would use the Internet to find lost-pet ads in newspapers and contact the owners. He would say he had found their missing pets and would offer to return the animals for the price of an airline ticket and pet carrier.

Two weeks later they got a call from a man who said he had found their dog.

"He called my wife about 11 a.m. on Feb. 7 and said he was a truck driver and he found Buster when he stopped to check his tires," Savage said Friday.

"He said he fed him part of a chicken sandwich and he got in his truck. Buster is friendly. Too friendly. If someone comes to our door, Buster would think they were coming to visit him."

Savage said the man told him he had a friend at Delta Air Lines and he would put Buster on the next flight to Gainesville.

He even gave the Savages a tracking number to trace the flight, Savage said.

However, Savage said, the man said he needed $85 for the pet carrier.

Savage, a retired Marion County deputy sheriff, used his law-enforcement background to do some checking, and he said everything appeared to be legitimate.

"I probably was too excited, full of joy, because I was going to get my baby back," he said. "I should have been leery."

The Savages wired the money over Western Union and headed for Gainesville to get their beloved pet.

"Only one pet showed up on the flight," he said. "It wasn't Buster."

He spent the next day calling telephone numbers in every lost-pet ad in the newspaper to see if anyone else had received similar calls.

He found two people who had received the same offer he did. All the calls were from the same cell phone number, he said.

Savage took his information to the Marion County Sheriff's Office, and an investigation began.

King said Atlanta police were already investigating the scam.

Orlando Sentinel