It’s true: I’ve been called gullible a time or two.
Though I prefer to think I’m just a trusting person. (Why would anyone lie to me?)
On my family’s first trip to Hawaii as a child, (I think I was 9) we arrived late, but we just had to go check out the beach before we slept. My dad suggested I put on plenty of sunscreen to avoid the risky “moon burn” potential.
Five minutes later when my brothers found me covering every square inch of my body in sunscreen, they had a good laugh. They still love to remind me of that story, and now I can laugh with them.
It does take time to find some things funny though, and I’m pretty sure the story I am about to tell you will also bring me some chuckles down the road. Just not yet.
And it’s true: I am sharing this story at the risk of my reputation. Some of you surely will read this and think I’m a fool, and in hind sight, I would agree. But I’m pretty sure there is a lesson or two here, whether we consider ourselves gullible or to, so I hope you’ll hang in there through this story.
So, here goes the story of Monica, as the victim of pet fraud. Puppy fraud, to be exact.
But before I launch in, I’d like to open start by suggesting that the kind of criminal who specializes in puppy fraud must be one of the lowest of lows. I mean there has to be a whole list of crimes that are less cruel and more financially rewarding than the heartless act of preying on a family’s loving desire for a cuddly companion for their children. I mean, really.
The story: Well, you may remember way back in this post where I talked about how our family was looking into getting a second dog, but we were torn on which breed to get. Then you might have read this post sharing the very sad news that our Australian Shepherd, Lulu, had passed. Since that time we still haven’t gotten another dog. We have waited partly because of timing (we were traveling during the summer) and partly because we have still haven’t decided on a breed. My husband loves Australian Shepherds, but I have dug my heels in on the issue because of the concern over them nipping. (One out of two of ours did, and we had to re-home him, which was its own sad story. Why risk that happening again!?) I love Labs and Golden Retrievers. Some of you suggested a rescue dog, and I like that idea, but here in Hawaii 99% of rescue dogs are some version of a pit-bull and (no offense to pit-bull lovers) I’m just not interested. (I do keep looking though, trust me.)
But then we have these two youngest boys: Luke and Levi. And God only knows where they get their ideas, but they are both obsessed with Siberian Huskies. Yes, you read that right. We live in Hawaii and my boys desperately want a dog breed that belongs in Alaska.
For a long time I would not even consider it. Ridiculous, I would say. Never. Never ever ever. Dave agreed.
But kids have this way…of wearing us down. And the older we get the quicker we wear down. Levi has a collection of stuffed Huskies which he carries around, and even brought them with him on our trip to Washington. If we ever see a husky, the world stops rotating for a moment, while my boys run to the owner, ask permission to touch it, and then take approximately 18,000 photos of it. (Check my phone for proof.) While in Washington, (home to the University of Washington HUSKIES) things went to the next level. There were plenty of Huskies on the streets, and my boys touched every single one of them. Finally, one day, my mom said “Monica, you need to get those boys a husky.” Oh Grandma.
But deep down, I too, was beginning to cave.
So on our return to Hawaii, I began to look around Craigslist and everywhere else to see if perhaps there was a decent-priced Husky on the island. And that is when I spotted it. The darling, blue-eyed, 3 month old, female Husky. What was most exciting was the price: $350. (for a pure-bred that is a STEAL.) “Too good to be true!” were my words. (and no truer words could be said.)
I contacted the owner via text message, and he replied that indeed the puppy was up-to-date on shots, had all papers, and bonus (!) — he knew of a “transport service” that can ship the dog from Kauai all the way to my doorstep, for a mere $150. That brought this deal to a grand total of $500. My mommy- heart began to pound as I imagined surprising my Husky-obsessed boys with their dream puppy — delivered right to their doorstep!
Because I was keeping this all secret, I had to communicate with my husband through text message primarily. He, like me, was not sold on the breed, but he also, like me, has a weakness for making little boys really happy. And he had to agree: the price was right.
Next, because I consider myself a “cautious consumer” I felt it would be best to talk on the phone with the owner, to verify this was all legit. It took some time but when I finally got him on the phone, there were challenges both in his thick accent (I told myself he must be an older Filipino man, since he lived on Kauai, and even had a Kauai phone number) and a bad phone connection. In hindsight of course, I am sure he rigged it to be bad so that I would give up on talking and resort to text messaging.
Through the following text messages, he explained that he was moving to Florida, that his wife was already there, and he had to stay behind to sell the puppy and wrap things up in Hawaii. Aha–that made perfect sense. “Why the low price?” I asked, again — (see, I was really trying to be cautious.) He replied that he “just wanted to give the puppy a good home.” Awww, what a sweet man!
And that was that. I texted Dave, who said he trusted me to decide on this one. I called my mom (obviously,) and she gave a thumbs up. Then I texted the puppy owner, saying “We’ll take it!”
He asked for my home address and said his “transport service” would deliver by that same night.
Holy Cow. This was happening! Pictures of my boys’ faces when that puppy arrived filled my mind and crowded out any doubts.
“How do I pay you?” I asked. I offered to use Pay Pal, or to put money directly into his account (there are only a few banks here in Hawaii.) He gave some explanation about how his account is on hold because of his move and various transactions. Then he asked me to go to the Wal-Mart Money Center and send the money to his wife in Florida. (hmm, that is strange.) (But–that puppy!)
So I did what he said. Even though the name he gave me (for his wife) was a long, foreign, man’s name, I wired $500.
Then, since I was at Wal-Mart, I also bought a dog crate, puppy food, a few chew toys, as well as doggie shampoo (with a labeling showing a photo of a husky, because SO CUTE!)
I went home and winked at my husband and had butterflies in my stomach all afternoon and evening. The man texted a number of times updating me that the transport service was “very busy today”– lots of dogs being shipped, he explained. (ridiculous, now that I think about it. How many dogs could be shipped from Kauai in one afternoon?)
Eventually he texted again that because there was such a high volume of dogs being shipped, the puppy wouldn’t arrive until 8:00 AM the next day. I began to feel uncomfortable.
Then at 9:00 PM I got a call from the transport service itself. The one (supposedly) on Kauai. Except the man who called had such a thick Middle Eastern accent, I could hardly understand a word he said. He sent an email, explaining that the puppy could not be shipped unless I paid $850 more to rent an air-conditioned crate for it to travel in. He said I would get a full refund on the money when she got to our home.
What the what!? “It’s a new law…a puppy recently died on a flight and now they have added this requirement.”
Something was smelling very fishy. They asked me to send the money via Western Union to Minnesota.
Now quick pause in my story. I’m imagining you all reading this and just shaking your heads. It’s SO obvious, right? This has scam and fraud written all over it. But when you’re in the middle of it, and you already sent $500 to Florida, and you’ve stared at a photo of a sweet blue-eyed husky too many times, you begin to feel very emotionally committed. You’ve bitten off this much, you just feel compelled to keep chewing.
At this point it was nearly 10:00 PM. Dave had put kids to bed and I was locked in my room, between the phone and the computer. Sweating. I was giving Dave quick reports and as he discovered more about the man I had bought the dog from…the transport service, the Walmart-money wire…he was fuming. He couldn’t believe I had gone this far.
Still I held on to hope. I admit it: I was very close to paying the $850 to Western Union for the air-conditioned crate. I couldn’t help it, in my mind there was a puppy at the airport in Kauai and its life depended on me. Thankfully: Dave stopped me. He was on his laptop reading an article about pet fraud. And literally everything about my current situation matched up with the most typical pet fraud scenarios. Every. Thing.
The Craigslist ad. The “we’re moving” story. The strange texts. The Wal-Mart wire request. The transport service. The late night call for more money.
I had heard about so many scams out there–I’ve hung up on phony IRS agents, and I’ve deleted emails from someone in China who left me millions of dollars that I just needed to “claim”. I thought I could sniff out a scam in a minute, but this? Puppy fraud…was a new concept for me.
Then the phone rang again, and the Middle Eastern man began yelling at me. Telling me I must send the money or I am neglecting a puppy. At the same time, the (supposed) puppy owner (supposedly on Kauai) is texting me, saying “Trust them! Trust them! I have used this transport service before! Just send the money and you’ll get the puppy! This is all about the puppy’s safety!”
The Middle Eastern transport service man called again, demanding money. We told him we were on to him, that he was a scammer. Eventually he said he has my home address and he’ll send police.
And finally, I had to bury my dream.
Of course there was no puppy. These people weren’t even in Hawaii (police later told me you can purchase Hawaii phone number and use it from anywhere. Hmm.)
I had been scammed. And now I was feeling all of the feelings: Embarrassed. Mad. Shamed. Sad. Childish. SO disappointed.
I quit answering all calls and texts then, talked to the police, then dug out my receipt for the $500. I called every number I could find until I found a Wal-Mart money service center that was open in the middle of the night. Miraculously, the money had not yet been picked up in Florida! (seriously a miracle since it would have been available 10 minutes after I sent it.) Wal-Mart was able to block the wire transfer right then. I was so relieved! I may have been scammed, but at least these low-down creeps did not get my money.
Eventually, we got some sleep, and though I didn’t wake up to a new puppy, I did wake up with a few lessons.
1. I am reminded that when we really want something to be true, we can convince ourselves of a lot of things. It is human nature, and I think we all do it at one time or another. (or often.) Love is blind (even love for your kids.) There is a verse in the Bible that heeds an important warning: “The heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jeremiah 17:9) We can try to force a situation, spiritualize it (“God told me…”) or come up with all kinds of justifications when really our own emotions or desires might be the more honest explanation. Check yourself.
2. The internet is a deep ocean of all kinds of things. Be careful.
3. If you tend towards the gullible side, definitely share things with your husband or another trusted adult before you go to Wal-Mart and wire money to Florida.
4. Finally: If it seems too good to be true…it probably is.
Now, three days later, we have spotted more Craigslist ads for cute Huskies on Kauai at a reduced rate due to a variety of “unfortunate circumstances”. They’re all $350 (the sweet spot, apparently.) This is a big scam and I am sure a whole lot of other people like me have been sucked into it. (It’s happening with other breeds and all over the country as well.) These people are making a fortune. I’m blocking Craigslist ads and reporting every spammy/scammy ad I find. It’s my new hobby. Grrrrr.
With all of this, I really don’t want to grow cynical or cold. In general I like people, and I think most people are trustworthy. But this experience has been eye-opening for me. And sadly, I think I will be more skeptical of a lot of things in the future.
Meanwhile I’m also thinking twice about other things in my life…more aware my ability to believe something to be true just because I want it to be. And about my gullible nature? I’m maturing. I mean, don’t even try tricking me into wearing sunscreen at night; I found some “moon-screen” on the internet that is much higher quality. 🙂
PS Please — no shaming me in comments, I’m still tender. However, if you have been the victim of any kind of scam and have the guts to tell about it, you are my true friend and welcome to comment with your story. Also, if you know any real Huskies (or Labs or Goldens or possibly a mix of any of these) that I can see before I purchase…let me know!