PITTSBURGH — At least four people in Western Pennsylvania were tricked by an international puppy scam that federal prosecutors say defrauded victims out of 1000′s of dollars.
“Unfortunately, we had one victim who lost more than $9000,” said Scott Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Where people have been targeted, over 70-percent are defrauded and lost, on average, $700.”
The Department of Justice announced an international arrest and indictment in the case, which targeted hundreds of consumers in the United States. Desmond Fodje Bobga, 27, is facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, forging a seal of the U.S. Supreme Court and aggravated identity theft.
The scheme was remarkably similar to a puppy fraud case 11 Investigates profiled this summer. The report cited a major spike in online puppy scams during the COVID crisis.
“It tracks exactly what our investigation was,” Brady said, describing the 11 Investigates report, which followed the experience of a Butler County family that lost $2400 in a puppy scam.
How the scheme worked
A criminal complaint just unsealed says Bobga, who is a citizen of Cameroon, helped to run an international cyber fraud operation out of Romania. Federal prosecutors say Bobga conspired with others to offer puppies and other animals for sale on fake websites, including “lovelyhappypuppy.com.” That website has since been deleted, but many people fell victim to the scheme before officials were able to shut it down.
After luring in victims with cute puppy pictures online, prosecutors say Bobga and his coconspirators, would execute an elaborate scheme to bilk them out of more and more money. First, they would send a tracking number; then, acting as the transportation company, would claim the pet transport was delayed, and the victim needed to pay additional money for delivery. Recently, they told some victims more money was necessary because the pet was “exposed to the coronavirus.”
Investigators identified six victims in the complaint, including four in western Pennsylvania.
A woman in New Brighton was seeking to purchase a mini-dachshund puppy for her mother in mid-March of 2020. She was induced to lose $9,100 due to false claims that the puppy was being shipped, needed insurance, and was exposed to COVID-19.
Another person in Pittsburgh was searching for a puppy online but became suspicious and did not send any payments. According to the complaint, 55 text messages were exchanged with that person’s phone number between Jan. 23 and Jan. 24 that attempted to induce the victim to pay for a puppy.
Bobga was arrested in Romania on Dec. 3 and faces a maximum sentence of 27 years if convicted on all charges.
11 Investigates reported on similar puppy scam
This summer, Ashley Williams told 11 Investigates she was lured by a Facebook ad for a St. Bernard puppy. When she responded, the seller initially quoted her a good price of $500 for the puppy, but then, claimed there were delays due to COVID, which required additional charges.
“So, they needed a 1000 for insurance, and also to build a box for the puppy to transfer in,” said Adam Williams, Ashley’s dad.
They paid several installments, before realizing they were being ripped off.
“I sent 800 from Zelle (money transfer app). My parents sent the 1000, and I sent the 510 through gift cards,” Ashley said.
The ‘seller’ asked them to pay in gift cards and through cash apps, which are also red flags, because they offer less protection if there is fraud involved.
“I don’t know really how people can do stuff like that. I just don’t see it, how people can be that heartless.”
Tips to protect yourself
If you’re looking for a puppy, it’s always best to follow these steps:
- Be wary of cheap prices for a breed
- Research the going rate for any breed you’re looking at
- Don’t pay with gift cards, cash apps, or money wire transfer
- Go to a local rescue, shelter, or breeder, if possible
- Be sure to see the puppy in person before any purchase
If you’ve been targeted by an internet crime, like an online puppy scam, you can report it to the FBI for investigation through the Internet Crime Complaint Center IC3.
Cox Media Group