Over the last week, four people have knocked on a door in Calgary’s Mount Royal neighborhood, looking to pick up a Shih Tzu puppy, only to go home empty-handed.
A woman has been advertising the dogs online, chatting with interested buyers over email and text before convincing them to give her a deposit to reserve the dog in the buyer’s name. Then, the victims are sent to an address to pick up the dog — only to find the dog doesn’t exist, and their money’s gone.
Scott and Shannon McGregor said the knocks on their door started on Tuesday. Their long driveway doesn’t usually have many visitors, but someone had driven up the steep slope and parked.
“It was kind of strange,” Scott said. “So, I came out to see what was going on and they said, ‘we’re here for the puppy.’ I was like, ‘well, I think you’ve got the wrong address.‘”
Quickly the group figured out that they had been scammed. Scott said he thought that would be the last of it.
Then, later the same day, another knock. Scott said they started asking questions and getting more information about how these people were communicating with the seller and where the ads were placed.
On Thursday, another car pulled up, waiting for a puppy.
Shannon called the Calgary police non-emergency line and reported the scam.
“It’s heartbreaking, you know?” Scott said. “Every person that you meet who comes to your door looking for a puppy … the look on their faces as it dawns on them what’s happened. It just makes you feel awful.”
On Saturday, a man from Edmonton came looking for the Shih Tzu. Instead, he was given a police case number and Shannon urged him to follow up.
“I think the main thing is I don’t want people to be embarrassed,” Shannon said. “They’re not the ones that did anything wrong, but they do need to report this. Otherwise, it’s going to keep happening.”
‘I was very excited. I was getting a puppy.’
Lori Fehr told her family she was thinking about getting a puppy for her birthday and her family offered to chip in. Her search started at local shelters. But, in the end, Fehr wanted a small breed and was encouraged to take her search online to breeders.
She found an ad, and tried to call the seller. But the phone went straight to voicemail, so she texted instead. She and the seller went back and forth for several hours about the puppy.
“It wasn’t until maybe the last 20 minutes of texting that I agreed to send her the deposit,” Fehr said. “Normally, I wouldn’t do that without actually seeing the puppy first. But she replied that was the only way that she could hold the puppy.”
Although some of her family members were hesitant, Fehr put her trust in the woman. The deposit was sent — $180 for a $450 dog.
The seller asked Fehr to come pick up the pup at a Calgary address, McGregor’s home. Then 20 minutes later the seller changed her mind, asking Fehr to meet her at the Airdrie Superstore parking lot instead. Fehr had a long drive from Sylvan Lake, and it would be closer.
“Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was very excited. I was getting a puppy.”
Online puppy scams on the rise ahead of the holidays, Calgary police warn
She’d planned to call the dog Panda, because of its black-and-white markings.
Her son was free, and decided to make the drive.
After hours in the parking lot, the seller texted Fehr’s son to tell him she was driving and running late, but eventually it was time to give up.
“No puppy, it was a very quiet ride home,” Fehr said. “All my son did say is: ‘sorry, mom, sorry this had to happen.’ But it’s not his fault, it’s hers.”
Calgary police confirmed there’s an ongoing fraud investigation linked to this scam.
Last year, police urged the public to be careful as puppy scams have been on the rise. In 2019, there were 10 cases recorded — in 2020 that number went up to more than 33 instances.
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