WOOSTER, Ohio — After responding to an online advertisement for French bulldog puppies last weekend, a Wooster family worries that they might have been taken advantage of. Not only do they not have the dog they were hoping to bring into their family, but they are also out more than $1500, the family said.
In late August and in early November, the Mark family was forced to say goodbye to their two beloved dogs, one of which formerly belonged to Angela Mark's father who passed away earlier this year.
"That was all she had left of her father," Brady Mark said.
The other dog, who passed away Nov. 15th, was a loveable American bulldog that was a companion animal to the Mark's teenage son. The family was taking the back-to-back losses pretty hard, Mark said, which explains why he and Angela so easily gravitated to an online advertisement for French bulldog puppies from a seller in Montana.
The seller reportedly told Angela that a family member of his had also recently passed away. Unable to take care of the puppies himself, the seller reportedly said that he would offer a puppy at a steeply discounted rate but the Mark family would have to pay for shipping, which would be around $300.
The seller could not be reached for comment and his online advertisement has been taken down.
Angela says she was directed to use a Montana-based company, American Delivery Service. The company's fairly official-looking website says the company, "[aims] to provide pet owners with unique advanced solutions needed to fly with your pets." The website does not list an address and calls to the listed phone number were not answered.
Additionally, there does not appear to be an official filing for American Deliver Service through the Montana Secretary of State's Office.
In the contracts, messages and invoices from alleged representatives of American Delivery Service, there were numerous grammatical and spelling errors, as well as no official letterhead.
In hindsight, Brady Mark said there were several red flags.
"We've been getting the runaround back and forth from the shipping company. Who's legitimate and who's not? We don't know yet," Mark said. "[Alleged company representatives] said, 'hey we need more money for this this and this.' We still have no dog and we're about $1700 deep right now, probably even more than that."
Mark said the alleged company went as far as to provide short videos and other media showing dogs in shipping containers, apparently suggesting the Mark's new puppy was in transit. There was also a shipment tracking number provided on the invoices. However, at every turn, there were demands for hundreds of dollars in order to pay for things like vaccines and special dog carriers.
Angela Mark said an alleged company representative said the dog was waiting at a local airport and would be released to the family upon final payment. However, Brady Mark said he called the airport and an airport representative told him there weren't any animals in holding.
Brady Mark said he and his wife have both come to the belief that their money may never be coming back.
"We borrowed money off of our daughter," Brady Mark said. "[Angela's] mom stepped in to try to help us out. We didn't just screw ourselves. We screwed other people in the process. It's going to screw us at the end of the month when bills start coming due. We might be short on rent. It's not their problem, it's ours. Still, if it can help somebody else to avoid what we just went through, so be it. If it prevents it happening from someone else, I guess I'll be that goat."
According to the Better Business Bureau, so-called puppy scams have grown in number and in complexity in recent years. The past three years, the BBB has received nearly 10,000 reports of puppy scams. However, the FTC estimates that only 10% of victims actually come forward.
Although the scams have grown more complex, they are often distinguishable by certain hallmarks. Possible red flags include communications only through email, copycat or easily obtainable stock photos and payments through non-traditional services like pre-paid gift cards. Additionally, the BBB says if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.