Let’s say you’re a dog lover. Let’s say you're ready to welcome a new puppy into your life. You do some searching online and find a woman who’s selling teacup yorkies out of Oklahoma. For $500 sent via Western Union, she can send you a dog by Tuesday.
That’s when things start to get weird. A man who claims to work for the delivery agency says a “new guideline” is in place. Puppies under 20 weeks old must be insured before they board a plane. It'll cost $1,500. But don’t worry: “98 percent” of it will be refunded once you have the puppy in hand.
The next day, there’s another problem. Your puppy needs an “electronically temperature-controlled crate” because of Minnesota’s punishing winters. It’ll cost $1,100. But don’t worry: This will be refunded too.
The next day, the company claims your dog got sick. She needs medicine to make sure she’s healthy enough for transport. That'll cost $1,000.
The next day, the company claims it needs $1,600 for a “city permit” to allow your puppy to enter your local airport. You’ve never heard of anything like this. But don’t worry: The company negotiated with the “agency” in charge and got it down to $1,100.
It isn’t long after that the company stops talking to you altogether, and you still don’t have your yorkie.
This is the real testimony from a customer in Waconia, posted to the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker page. The alleged yorkie breeder took this person for $4,050.
“Guess my emotions for this poor puppy were really high at this point,” the testimony reads. “I’m sick to my stomach over the fact that I fell for this because I really am smarter than this.”
It may sound outlandish, but on the Better Business Bureau’s site, you can find dozens of pins posted across a Minnesota map with stories just like it – ranging from a few hundred bucks to over a thousand down the drain, and no adorable pugs and poodles to show for it.
It's a classic scam. According to Bureau spokesperson Bess Ellenson, reports of fake puppy transactions have been spiking in Minnesota for the past month. The bureau has received something like 150 inquiries about possible scams during that time, and eight reports of fraud.
Those eight reports include a New Jersey man who attempted to buy a $1,800 puppy from Frenchie Farm Bulldogs, which claimed to be based out of St. Paul. Ellenson says the Frenchie Farms website has since removed any reference of being in the Twin Cities (the company now claims to be from “MI, in the country,”) and it hasn’t replied to the bureau’s attempts to verify the customers’ claims.
In fact, getting in touch with Frenchie Farm at all is an undertaking – as the website itself will explain to you.
“We had no choice [but] to take down our phone number and physical address,” a disclaimer reads. The only remaining way to get in touch is an email form. The reason given is the safety of the seller’s family and dogs.
“My family’s safety is what’s No. 1, and if you cannot understand that, you are entitled to YOUR opinion, but do NOT judge someone you do not know. There are a lot of haters in this world, it’s very sad,” it reads. It finishes by wishing the reader a “FRENCHTABULOUS DAY.” (The company didn’t respond to City Pages’ inquiry about its business practices.)
“They know we’re on to them,” Ellenson says.
Unfortunately, the bureau doesn’t have any power to shut scam operations down. It’s not an enforcement agency. And even if it was, a lot of these companies are actually overseas, largely centered around Camaroon in West Africa, according to a 2017 report.
The best thing consumers can do is know a scam when they see one. They’ll ask you to wire them money. They won’t let you see the dog before they ship it. They won’t be stoked to draw up a contract for your purchase. The price will seem, at first, like a steal. They may claim to be certified by the American Kennel Club, but a quick phone call will reveal the club has never heard of them.
Some 80 percent of advertiser links that appear when you search for pets online may be fraudulent. If you think you might be dealing with a scammer, call the American Kennel Club’s customer service line at 919-233-9767.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam, file a report with the Bureau’s scam tracker.