I-Team: Disabled Portland man loses $500 in puppy selling scam, warns others

Pete Cole and "Joey" the pug, as pictured on marathonpug.com.

PORTLAND (WGME) - The I-Team investigates puppy selling scams.

Consumer advocates say more and more pet lovers are getting ripped off when looking online.

A disabled Portland man not only lost hundreds of dollars but also hope of bringing home a new best friend.

When Pete Cole's pug Gizmo died from cancer six months ago, he was devastated.

"He was something; he was never left alone. He was with me 24/7," Cole said.

His doctor recommended he get a service animal to help him deal with his disabilities.

He found Joey on marathonpughome.com

"I started talking to the guy, and I thought they were legit, and we made a deal to buy Joey," Cole said.

Texts back and forth show the terms of the deal.

Once the seller got $500 "the puppy will be shipped and delivered to your home address directly."

A receipt shows Cole wired the money and got a text back saying "I assure you that you will have your puppy tomorrow."

"He said my dog was on the next plane here, but he never showed. The guy said he needed $900 more to insure the dog so they could fly him here; he wasn't even on a plane," Cole said.

Cole refused to send the seller any more money.

"Right then and there I knew I was screwed," he said.

The Better Business Bureau says this has all the makings of a puppy selling scam.

"This is very common; this is exactly what we see--grammatical, spelling errors, encouraging you to wire money immediately," said Paula Fleming with the BBB.

A report from the BBB found this kind of scam is happening at an "alarming rate."

80% of online ads for puppies are likely fake, according to the report.

"You have to be extremely cautious when you see an online ad for a pet to purchase or a pet to rescue that you're not being scammed," Fleming said.

The BBB and federal regulators say thousands of people across the country have been victims of pet sale scams with loses ranging from $100-$5,000.

Many begin with a fake website and stolen photos often taken from legitimate sites and sellers.

"I don't want no one else to get ripped off. It's like losing the dog all over and with depression it just makes it worse," Cole said.

We discovered a picture on the marathonpughome.com was actually taken from an article in the Dallas Morning News.

The people in the picture say while they are dog breeders, this is not their website.

In fact, we found the website was registered using a private domain service in Cyprus and traced the IP address to Russia.

The fake sellers showed no signs of stopping.

One of our co-workers emailed asking about another dog on the site.

She got an email back with more pictures of Bug the pug and an offer to sell the dog for $475 and free shipping.

After we called the number on marathonpughome.com and sent a follow-up email, the website was taken down.

"People are out there and they're sucking money out of people who need help, who need a dog. They're playing on your feelings and you live and learn and still go on," Cole said.

CBS 13 is are working with some local animal rescue groups to try to help find Pete Cole a dog.

Avoid a pet selling scam:

  • Buy a pet in person if possible
  • Try to find a fair price for the breed you're interested in; if it's too low, that could be a sign of a scam
  • Never wire money; use a credit card

The BBB says most people scammed by this one are in their 20s and 30s--the generation very comfortable buying things online.

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