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Report: Minnesotans used in international puppy scam

Only too late, buyers show up to Twin Cities homes looking for dogs that don't exist, and never have.

Only too late, buyers show up to Twin Cities homes looking for dogs that don't exist, and never have. Hannah Grace, Unsplash.com

It's as if Abby Murphy’s Eagle Lake home has been cursed.

She told KARE 11 about all the strangers who show up on her doorstep, each one asking to see "the puppies.” They explain they’ve already paid hundreds of dollars in fees. They just want to bring their new pet home.

Murphy doesn’t have any puppies. Never did. A scammer has been using her home address as a front to sell nonexistent dogs to victims over the internet.

That’s not Murphy’s fault, but she’s the one who has to tell the latest little boy he doesn’t have a new best friend waiting for him. She’s the one who has to see his face “drop” as he learns the truth. Dealing with the emotional wreckage has been “nerve-wracking” for the southern Minnesota mom.

At least she’s not alone. A broad investigation by KARE 11 discovered that Murphy’s address and others in Eagle Lake are being used in an “international puppy scam” spanning multiple websites and breeds.

The gambit is pretty much the same every time. A breeder over the internet advertises a puppy for sale, usually for lower than usual prices. Once the buyer agrees, the breeder promises the puppy is on its way, but often asks for more money.

There are excuses, of course. They may say it’s for a refundable heated crate, so the dog can make a safe airplane trip to the buyer. Or they’ll say the dog is sick and needs medicine, or is stuck in customs. Either way, the dog isn’t coming, because the dog was never for sale. The scam only ends when the buyer smells a rat and refuses to wire any more cash, or shows up at a supposed pickup site to find a total lack of dog.

It's a shock to the victims and a disappointing non-surprise to folks who have been paying attention. The feds have been looking into this ruse for quite some time, and suspect there may be a Minnesota-based “cell” of scammers with national reach.

In 2014, a Federal Trade Commission report on puppy scams documented a high concentration of these crimes in Minnesota, particularly in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, and Brooklyn Center. Most of the money, they believe, ends up in the West African nation of Cameroon.

The fake-puppy wave has gotten the attention of the Better Business Bureau, too. This summer, the organization saw a spike in reported Minnesota-related pet scams—again, most likely tied to Cameroon—with about 150 inquiries and eight confirmed cases of fraud.

The problem is so pervasive a BBB scam tracker told KARE 11 he suspects as many as 80 percent of online links for puppies and other pets are false. 

What it comes down to, experts say, is you can’t buy a dog online without seeing it in the furry flesh. Look beyond that adorable the face on your computer screen, and picture your own or your kid's, heartbroken on poor Abby Murphy's doorstep.