How a tech-savvy woman lost $1,000 in a classic puppy scam
PORTLAND, Ore. --- Another day, another scam, another victim. Online hoaxes drawing on pictures of cute puppies or brand-new laptops sometimes seem like they were invented even before the internet.
But this victim doesn't fit the typical profile.
Sara Hardie is young, tech-savvy and grew up in a household where her parents taught her to be wary of bogus online deals.
For whatever reason - maybe it was Christmas season excitement - Sara let a scammer lure her in last week.
She paid more than $1,250 for a puppy that almost certainly doesn't exist.
Sara and her husband planned to find a companion for their feisty one-year-old Shepherd-Husky mix named Bones.
"You're in tunnel-vision," she said, describing how she felt after stumbling across an online classified advertisement for St. Bernard puppies on a local Portland website.
"You see something you really want. I was side-blinded. I didn't pay attention to the red flags at the time."
The seller claimed he recently moved to Florida from Oregon and had a litter of ten puppies.
According to Sara, he said his new Florida landlord wouldn't allow dogs, so he was looking to find people to adopt them.
Sara says she had to answer questions similar to a real shelter or breeder's screening criteria regarding her interest, knowledge and commitment before the seller would allow her to adopt the puppy.
After getting the go-ahead, Sara says all she was asked to pay were the $350 shipping fees for a cross-country flight.
The seller instructed her to buy a pre-paid electronic money card from a grocery store that can be redeemed similar to money wire services.
Then he asked for money again.
"He called and needed $900 because the airline requires dogs to have insurance," said Sara.
She bought the pre-paid card and sent the seller the money for a second time.
The red flags were piling up, but Sara wasn't noticing.
"It was puppy syndrome. You see a puppy you really want, you don't think about all this stuff, I guess," she said.
The dog was supposedly arriving on a cross-country flight at 1:30 in the morning.
Sara stayed up until 4:30 am. The dog never arrived. But a phone call did. The seller claimed the dog was stuck in Washington, DC, and needed money for medical procedures.
That's when the red flags finally materialized for Sara.
The seller used different email addresses.
He spoke with a thick accent.
He used bad grammar and terrible spelling.
He would only accept anonymous payments using pre-paid money cards or money wire services.
He would not give out his phone number or address.
Shouldn't it be obvious to a young, tech-savvy person like Sara?
"It's Christmas," she said. "I like to believe you can trust people out there."
Sara bought the pre-paid money cards with her regular credit card so she says her issuer agreed to cover all of her loss.
She and her husband also decided they still want a dog.
On Sunday, they picked up a Plott hound from a shelter before he was scheduled to be euthanized.