Sandy Trujillo lost $1600 to a stranger she found on Google.
The Sydney local was left feeling “stupid, angry and ashamed” for being duped, believing she had done adequate due diligence before handing over her money.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Expert tips on avoiding the latest scams.
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Despite her feelings of embarrassment, she decided to expose the scammer who stole her hard-earned cash.
Three years later, she has discovered thousands of Aussies have been dudded into handing over millions of dollars in scams involving the sale of puppies.
Now Sandy is warning every Aussie who is shopping “blind” via the internet for big purchases to just “pick up the phone”.
“Scammers don’t like to speak with you on the phone,” Sandy tells 7Life.
“They will do whatever they can to email you or they love using What’s App.
“A genuine person would be more than happy to answer your phone call.”
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns in place, Sandy’s mother was feeling particularly isolated.
The elderly woman lived alone and suffered from lung issues, and the lockdowns had significantly impacted her mental health.
Worried about her mum, Sandy decided to find her a low allergenic dog, Cavoodle or Poodle, to help boost her spirits and keep her company.
Despite scouring every shelter in NSW for the perfect pooch, she came up empty handed.
So she turned to Google, finding the name of a reputable breeder, located in Armidale in NSW. Filling out an online form, she lodged her interest in one of the breeder’s advertised Toy Poodles.
Believing she was doing her due diligence, Sandy asked for proof the breeder was who they claimed to be.
She quickly received a response, with a photo of a woman holding a NSW driver’s licence bearing the name Donna Dickson.
Content with the apparent “proof”, Sandy continued with the purchase – and the woman purporting to be Donna then asked for a $1600 deposit. Sandy transferred the money into the Australian bank account provided.
However, the next day, she was contacted again and asked for a further $2500 for various “COVID related” expenses.
Alarm bells went off and Sandy immediately phoned the number she was given for the breeder.
A man with a foreign accent answered and refused to put the woman purporting to be Donna on the phone.
In that moment, Sandy knew she had fallen victim to a scam.
“I felt so stupid,” Sandy says. “I told Mum, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll find you a dog’ – and look what happened.”
Sandy was furious – with herself and the scammer.
“It’s not just the money. I had sent them my home address too, I didn’t feel safe,” she explains. “I felt so dumb.”
She called the bank and the police. But it wasn’t enough, Sandy still felt cheated.
So she looked up the address on the driver’s licence the scammer had sent her.
And, after her own investigating, Sandy discovered there was a Donna Dickson who was indeed a real puppy breeder.
According to Armidale police, Donna’s identity had been stolen – and was being used to scam people like Sandy.
“I felt so horrible for Donna,” Sandy says, explaining that she befriended Donna on social media and then phoned her.
The real Donna revealed she knew of a dozen people who had been scammed using her ID, including one family with a little girl who arrived at her address to pick up the puppy for which they had supposedly paid a deposit.
Donna, too, has been left devastated by the situation.
In an interview with the ABC, Donna explained how, in August 2019, she had been contacted by a potential buyer via Gumtree claiming to be interested in a puppy she had for sale.
The buyer told Donna she had previously been scammed and asked Donna to send a photo of her holding her driver’s licence, as well as her breeder number, before she would purchase a dog.
Donna did so – and that’s when her identity was stolen.
For three years, people had been messaging Donna on social media and even knocking on her front door claiming she owed them a puppy.
“I just keep my gate locked all the time because I don’t know who’s going to come in,” Donna told The ABC.
When she was contacted by Sandy, the pair bonded over their hatred for the faceless scammer.
“I just told her I believed her ordeal,” Sandy says.
“She couldn’t believe it, I was the only one who believed her.
“Her name was being dragged through the mud.”
Web of lies
In a bid to help Donna, Sandy launched the Facebook group Puppy Scam Awareness Australia – to warn others of the story and urge them not to be taken in.
The group quickly grew to more than 15,000 members.
Some joined claiming they were scammed too, others signed up to ask for advice on how to not be scammed, and some sought help on how to prevent their ID being stolen.
“Puppy scams are out of control,” Sandy claims.
“Scammers prey on lonely people. Cavoodles used to be $1500, now they are $6000-$8000 – it’s like a pricing war.
“Scammers come in $2000 lower and people think they are getting a bargain.”
According to The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch, Australians lost $2.5 million to puppy scams in 2021 alone.
With scammers one step ahead of the game, they are constantly stealing breeders’ registrations and IDs, and continuing the cycle of selling puppies that never existed.
Some are even opening Australian bank accounts for potential buyers to deposit money into, an act for which Sandy believes banks should take responsibility.
Hand-in-hand with her Facebook page, Sandy has started a website where she provides tips on how to spot scammers, and lists of known scammers and reputable breeders.
It is also a safe space where victims can report a scam.
“Just the other day I had someone report they lost $5750 to a puppy scam,” Sandy says.
Since starting the website, thousands of people have claimed they have been scammed out of thousands of dollars.
“Think about the people that are too embarrassed to speak up or the people who just don’t report the scam,” Sandy adds.
Everyday she is online uploading known websites of scammers and helping raise awareness to try to prevent more innocent Aussies falling victim to the sophisticated crimes.
She is sharing her own story of vulnerability in the hopes of stopping others losing their cash at the hands of faceless criminals.
Sandy’s top tips before purchasing a puppy:
- Puppy photos – are all the photos similar with the same background?
- If the phone number starts with 0480-0***** or 0488-8***** then it’s likely to be a scam.
- Ask to see the puppy via FaceTime or Messenger video call.
- If it’s too good to be true, it is!
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