This has been a week for two of my good friends. They each fell for scams.
One was reeled in by an online puppy profile, where the pricing for “Henry” was a steal.
The other was threatened on the phone, based on a fake alert of their stolen identity for crimes committed out-of-state.
Based on the stressful events of this week in helping my friends recover, I share the (relatively) brief play-by-play here to give some insight into the experience and any key items that were learned as a result.
Scam #1: Fake dog breeder. Loss of $500.
I don’t condone the purchase of dogs from breeders, though I did get insight on general etiquette in purchasing from a breeder through my friend. Here were some signs that items were not in order:
- The breeder for the dog in question, wasn’t the actual breeder. They were an “agent” for the breeder.
- The agent couldn’t clarify what kind of food the puppy was eating to transition to the home environment. They proposed all sorts of food options.
- They didn’t answer questions directly or provided generic responses.
- Images communicated were not of the same dogs pictured online. Only slightly different in look, but close enough to effectively fool.
- A language barrier prevented clarification on questions and pricing.
- Payment was not through website credit card payment processors. It was through a money transferring app.
- The price was $500. This was said to include the vaccines, de-worming and overall clean bill of health.
- The agent noted delays in shipping out the puppy on a flight from Texas. (Where the breeder was supposedly located.)
- The agent asked for additional money for the carrier and additional fees.
At this point, you might be wondering…why would I buy after this communication confusion and overall red flags? My friend had already purchased a dog previously for a larger sum where they flew out a dog from a breeder in Chicago a few years prior. They were willing to go through a similar experience at a lower risk in purchasing at $500. For the type of dog they were searching for, $1,000 – $3,000 is often the asking price for a healthy, vaccinated puppy of around 8 weeks. They were willing to take a risk, and it was undeniably too good to be true.
When did they realize?: At the point where the agent asked for nearly three times the price of the puppy, following the base price submitted via an app for the puppy. This was mentioned to cover the “unanticipated” fees for shipping, carrier and flight fees.
What did we learn?: Never pay via apps. It’s better to pay via credit card online when opting to purchase. Additionally, the rule of thumb is to visit the breeder directly to interact with the dog. (How else would you know your new pet’s personality?) or hop on a video call with the breeder. You have to be able to communicate fully and understand what you’re paying for. There’s no cheap routes in purchasing a dog from a breeder.
Was there any resolution? Reporting to the FTC, BBB and to the FBI occurred, in addition to filing a police report and contacting the money transferring app. However, based on the nature of the scam and the ability of the attackers to disappear electronically, there was not an option to refund the money or track the scammers.
Scam #2: Stolen Identity. Loss: $25,000
This one is hard to write about without grimacing.
- My friend received a call while at a vet appointment from “federal agents”.
- The scammers gave an alert that my friend had an individual who was impersonating them and had taken over their identity in various crimes domestically.
- My friend was threatened to keep quiet, not mention the issue to anyone and stay on the line as they spoke to various members of different United States agencies such as the FBI and the DEA.
- Scammers provided secure information about my friend and the scammers “authenticated” their federal status in ways that were altogether hard for my friend to discredit.
- My friend was told their accounts were frozen and suspended for 24 hours.
- They were warned their communication was being recorded for all messages and calls to others to speak about the issue.
- They were told a federal agent would make contact with them the following day at 10 am and they couldn’t discuss the case until then.
- From there, they were made to go to different stores, purchase cash cards, and mail them in a package that was overnight air, expedited and certified to another agency across the country.
When Did They Realize? An hour after they got home, which was around 2-3 hours after sending the packages through UPS. The feeling was that things had gone too far and they called the police, which confirmed their suspicion.
What Did We Learn? From following this scam over the previous week, there’s a lot of takeaways:
- TAKE ACTION ASAP. Every minute/hour, your money is further out of reach.
- It’s encouraged in every communication to file a police report. Every company will encourage this in their fraud resolution departments.
- Police have little say in this area, as many scammers are based internationally. (In this case, they encouraged my friend to accept the loss. Rather crushing to hear over the phone…)
- Due to the electronic nature of the scam, it’s easy for scammers to “disappear.”
- For items like cash cards, scammers have the ability to use card balances without even having the cards physically. (The packages were flying across the country as the attackers in the scam ring was spending the balance.)
- Different stores have different policies for purchases for cash/gift cards that can work in the favor of stopping potential scammer spending. For example, there may be a strict policy in writing that in-person purchases can’t be made without the card in hand. Other stores have the ability to stop order processing for online purchases.
- If you can give the card numbers for any gift cards to the store department, it can be feasible to block purchases on the noted gift card before scammers can access.
- Cancel all credit cards that are associated with the transaction. Report with institutions as stolen and request new cards immediately.
- Look into identity protection through systems like LifeLock. There are data breaches reported every day (I work in IT and network security, so I see the updates.) Many breaches occur months before they are reported to the public and can be for companies of any size.
- You can request packages to be returned to you as the sender with UPS, even expedited overnight. It’s in your interest to use the tracking ID and request this as quick as possible, making sure to sign up for notifications.
- Having the gift cards in your possession can help your case for recouping money with this type of scam for various stores and finance institutions. This is case dependent and not certain.
- In this scam, since you technically authorized purchases, it’s hard to make a case to banking institutions and credit card companies to report these transactions. You made the transactions…
- In your phone settings, select the option to “Silence Unknown Callers”. You can’t fall for a scammer over the phone if their call never reaches you in the first place. (I did this in November of last year. I’m currently free from suspicious robo-calls.)
Was there a resolution? While uncommon, my friend was able to recoup some of their loss at around $4000. Typically people recover nothing, and losses can be around $100,000 or more. These scam rings are practiced and elaborate. They are hard to resolve, to say the least. My friend is up to their neck in reports and investigations with various places. In one instance, they have been able to make a case where the gift cards were purchased at a store with a policy where the purchase was made in-person and the gift card was not presented. To some degree, the investigation can hold the store/employee liable in this respect. To recover some of their money, they reported gift card numbers to the store the evening of the scam, wherein the store blocked use of the cards. They knew it worked, since the scammer called them back the next morning to report an error in “fund transfers”. It’s important to note that this was on account of my friend working on this HOURS after the initial scam activities took place.
Overall: Scammers are quick, knowledgeable and not easy to pin down in the name of justice. Unfortunately, many people can fall prey based on the scammer delving deeper into pain points and making the instance entirely believable and scary for the victim.
I did my best to outline what was learned in both scamming experiences in order to potentially help a future individual in even the smallest degree. These instances were both relatively early in detection. For someone who has been scammed days or weeks previous, these tips are not likely to be as helpful.
People may encourage you to report a loss and give up the action of recouping in general as a waste of time, even in early detection. I can speak from assisting my friends that it is possible in some cases, but immensely time consuming. It may serve you better than doing nothing at all.
The key to recovering is EARLY ACTION.
The key to prevention is STAYING AWARE. Question everything online and on the phone. It could save you and your wallet.