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Grieving mother scammed out of $2,400 trying to buy puppy to cope with daughter's death

Online pet scams skyrocket amid pandemic
New report warns online pet scams have skyrocketed during pandemic 05:12

Washington resident Jeanne Dixon was grieving the death of her 19-year-old daughter when scammers posing as a dog breeder used her sadness to extort her for thousands of dollars.

Complaints about pet scams have roughly doubled from last year, according to a new Better Business Bureau report, and Americans have lost more than $2 million. Scammers are taking advantage of people who are lonely or desperate, causing not only financial losses but real heartbreak.

Dixon, one of the numerous Americans who fell in the unfortunate trap, was seeking a canine companion to help cope with the loss of 19-year-old Charlene, who died after a knee surgery in 2019. 

Jeanne Dixon was seeking a Newfoundland puppy to help cope with the loss of her daughter, 19-year-old Charlene, who died after a knee surgery in 2019. CBS News

"Charlene was gonna change the world. She was a magnificent, beautiful, loving, kind girl," Dixon told CBS News' consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner.

One thing her daughter always wanted, Dixon said, was a Newfoundland puppy.

"I sought out a puppy to honor Charlene's legacy and let her know how much I loved her," she said.

In June, Dixon found a now-defunct website advertising as a Newfoundland breeder in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She picked out a puppy named Ben, who the supposed breeder assured her would be registered and vet-checked. 

She said they came to an agreement of $950, but after she sent the initial payment, Dixon said she was told "the money didn't come." 

According to Dixon, she was then told to take the money to an ATM and put it in his bank account, which she then did.

"I came home and waited for a puppy," Dixon said.

The breeder then told her via text that she would have to pay an additional $1,500 for what they called a "refundable insurance fee," which she also paid.

"And I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for my puppy," she recalled.

Dixon became suspicious after she got another email from the breeder's so-called shipping company, telling her she would have to pay another $2,600 for a temperature regulator crate and anti-pressure vaccine. 

"Right then I realized I'd been scammed," Dixon said.

Katherine Hutt of the Better Business Bureau noted that scammers are "very clever" at tapping into and exploiting the emotions of their victims.

"That's one of the things that really makes this so sad," Hutt said. "This is not just a scam where you lose money. This is a scam where your heart gets broken."

Her group estimates more than three-quarters of the websites advertising puppies for sale are not real. 

Online security expert Paul Brady said the coronavirus pandemic has been a "windfall" for scammers.

"It's created a perfect storm for puppy scams," he said.

Brady runs a website called that monitors fake breeders. He said the scams usually operate out of foreign countries such as South Africa, Singapore and Cameroon.

"These scams are running on an industrial scale, it is arranged like an actual gang," Brady said. "It is easy money if you're in Cameroon because the relative payback is very high."

Nearly 4,000 people filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau from January through November, with victims saying they lost amounts ranging from $900 to even $6,200 to pet scammers. 

"They will keep going until you decide to stop paying money," Brady said.

Jeanne Dixon did stop, but only after losing over $2,400 and the puppy she thought would help her cope with the loss of her daughter.

"I blame myself because it was a stupid thing to do," Dixon said. "To believe that I could send money to some anonymous person and get some comfort out of that — that was dumb."

CBS News attempted to contact the Newfoundland dog website and shipping company Dixon spoke with, but no one responded.

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