Couple’s fake puppy heartbreak

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The SPCA always has puppies and older dogs available for adoption. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

“It’s like losing a puppy all over again”

Makhanda (Grahamstown) couple loses R30 000 in internet scam. Grocott’s Mail reports.

When Estelle de Jongh* and husband Andre* recently lost a puppy to distemper, they were devastated. Apart from the expense – Estelle had to take an advance from her employer to pay the R5 000 vet bill – they had the heartbreak of losing a little creature they’d already firmly bonded with.

Andre, seeing Estelle still struggling with the loss weeks later, decided he would surprise her. He went on to the internet and searched for “golden retriever puppy”. A few websites came up, he most liked the look of goldenpupshome.co.za and clicked on to it.

After a search, he sent them an email expressing interest in buying a female puppy.

He quickly received a response, with a list of questions  about their experience and ability in caring for a pet. He assured them the couple had owned dogs for many years and that they were well cared for.

This time they responded by Whatsapp, saying they had three female golden retriever puppies available. He replied, asking for photos, and they obliged. That was two Fridays ago – 22 February.

“That weekend we had a chat,” Estelle told Grocott’s Mail. “I said to Andre, don’t you think we should wait before rushing into getting another puppy?

“I thought we were going to leave this whole thing – but unfortunately my husband gets a bee in his bonnet about something and then he does it. The next minute he said, ‘Look, I’ve paid it.’”

Estelle realised there was no turning back.

The website said goldenpups was based in Queenstown and Andre suggested they drive and fetch the puppy.

Estelle argued that the R650 or R750 they were charging for transport was less than it would cost them in fuel and time.

They contacted Andre by whatsapp and email again to say they were getting the puppy ready for the three-hour trip.

“Us still thinking it’s going to be them,” Estelle said. Until  Andre started receiving emails from a pet courier company in Kimberley.

By this time, Estelle had become suspicious and tried to call them. But she was at work and busy with customers.

Meanwhile, the pet couriers called Andre and told him they needed a R9100 deposit on a climate-controlled pet cage, which would be refunded when they delivered the puppy.

I said to him, “Have you paid it?”

Yes, Andre said.

Estelle had barely got over that shock, when Andre told her he’d just paid across another R15 000 they’d told him they needed for temporary insurance – also refundable on delivery of the puppy.

“I said please Andre for god’s sake tell me you haven’t paid it over,” Estelle said. “What courier is going to have R22 000 in cash for you when they get to Grahamstown?”

Andre said he had.

The phone number the man had given belonged to a well known national courier, and Estelle assumed that The Pet Courier was a division of the company. “He sounded South African,” Estelle said.

Even though Estelle had a bad feeling about the whole affair, though, her hope remained, warmed by the photos of the adorable Melissa, who would arrive in their arms before the end of the day. Excited, she took the afternoon off to meet the new puppy and help her settle in.

“First the puppy was going to be here at 3 o’clock. Then it was going to be half past five,” Estelle said. “This guy kept contacting Andre, explaining the delays.”

At one stage, Andre said to him, ‘Aren’t you people busy with a scam?’

“No, Andre, do you really think I would keep in contact with you if this was a scam?”the Pet Courier man had said.

But by now, Estelle was convinced that was exactly what it was.

Up to now, it had been only Andre who’d contacted them.

This time, Estelle whatsapped them, saying she’d seen their ad on the website and was very interested in Melissa. They told her Melissa was already sold, but Rose and Ella were still available.

“I said okay fine, we live in Fort Beaufort which is an hour and a half  from you. Could we come through and we’ll do an EFT when we collect the puppy?”

They said, “No, sorry we don’t work that way. We send an invoice and you pay upfront.

“Plus you could only pick up the puppy on a Saturday or a Sunday.”

Estelle told them she’d rather look somewhere else in that case.

“His words to me were ‘Good luck with that.”

But by then it was too late. Andre had paid over 6250 for the puppy; R15 500 for insurance and  R9 100 for the deposit on the special pet cage.

As soon as they could, the couple went to the bank and asked them to stop Andre’s payments.

They discovered there was thousands of rands going in and out of the account and the money had already been withdrawn. But they would flag it as a possibly fraudulent account and when money came in he could get his money back.

“But they’ve got accounts all over the place with different names,” Estelle said.

“This is so stressful. It’s a financial burden on us now that we didn’t bargain on. It’s emotional because we saw this puppy, and us being such dog lovers, and Andre wanting so badly to have a golden retriever. Losing the puppy we had, and now this.

“I’m angry with him, but I can’t show him so I have to keep it inside.

“I’m also angry at myself for letting him pay the money over. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that it happened. There are other websites there that look just as suspicious – but now you know what to look for.

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking – we’ve lost in every way. It’s like a puppy dying again.”

* Couple’s names changed to protect their identities.

Following this incident Grocott’s Mail produced an extensive data investigation into goldenpups and three more scam websites that seem to be linked and operated by the same ‘scamsters’. Please read our full investigation online and see how a Russian puppy named “Max” lead our team to uncovering these fake websites.

Our team is currently in contact with several sources including SAPS to continue this investigation, and have continued to work to uncover more of these websites.

Read Kathryn Cleary’s data investigation at bit.ly/GROCpupscam

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