Emma Foster, 27, Churchill, Vic
Those big brown eyes...
The picture of two gorgeous puppies on my computer screen made my heart melt. With crumpled wet noses and soft coats, the purebred pugs were adorable.
'They're so cute,' I gushed to my husband, Ryan, 28.
We'd been planning on buying a dog for months and I knew one of these cuddly pups would be the perfect present for our kids, Nathaniel, eight, Logan, five, and Maila, two.
As my brother, Ashley, 25, also wanted to buy a pooch for his wife, I thought the pair could be our new four-legged family members.
As luck would have it, they were up for sale. It seemed their owner had recently got a promotion and was moving to Queensland. I can't look after them anymore, but I want to find them a loving home, the online advertisement read.
I had to get in touch! I sent an email to the owner and told her all about our family. We'll take great care of them, I promised. When the woman responded just an hour later, I bubbled with excitement.
They are 10 weeks old and have a great temperament with children, she wrote. As we chatted online, I imagined the cute little pups running around the backyard with my kids.
Ashley and I decided to purchase both pugs using the last of our Christmas savings. Emailing the owner to arrange a meeting, she had some news.
I've actually already moved to Brisbane, she told me. I'm happy for you to come up here to meet them first but if that's not possible I can have them sent to you.
She explained that she was willing to accept $400 to cover the cost of transportation. I was disheartened we couldn't pick them up, but I knew purebred pugs often cost over $1000 so we were already getting a great deal.
Going ahead, I received a confirmation email from a transport company the next day saying everything had been organised. Now all I needed to do was transfer the money through Western Union. I'd never heard of it before, but I assumed it was just a small bank so I sent the money through.
Excited about our new arrivals, I rushed out and splurged on a dog bed, toys and treats. But two days later, I got a call from a pet insurance company telling me the dogs had been quarantined at the airport.
In order to get them through, they needed me to fork out $980 for a vet check and health certificates.
I was so confused. Was this normal? They assured me it would be refunded as soon as the dogs arrived in Melbourne, but I had a niggling feeling something wasn't right.
So I decided to research the company. When I looked them up online, I was relieved to see that it was a reputable business with good reviews.
'You're worrying about nothing,' I told myself, transferring the money.
I was so confused. Was this normal?
Shortly afterwards I got a call from a man at the transport company saying the puppies had arrived safely in Melbourne. Phew!
'They're doing well and we'll be dropping them off at 5pm,' he informed me.
At around 4pm, I got another call reassuring me everything was going to plan.
'I've got one other drop off in the area and then I'll be there,' the driver told me politely. 'Have your paperwork ready.'
'I can't wait to cuddle our puppy,' Logan smiled as we all gathered eagerly in the front yard. Ashley hadn't thought of a name for his puppy yet, but we decided to name ours Sookie.
But when 5pm rolled around, there was no sign of the truck and my phone rang again.
'I'm around the corner, but the puppies have destroyed the crates they're being carried in,' the driver said. 'I'll need $300 each to replace them before I drop them off.' What?
'Bring them here and then I'll pay you,' I promised him.
'I can't wait to cuddle our puppy,' Logan smiled.
But he wouldn't take no for an answer and then he began threatening me. Hanging up, a sinking feeling overwhelmed me. Suddenly I knew.
There were no puppies. This wasn't a legitimate transport company. We'd just been scammed out of $1380.
Shaking with anger, I called the police. They came to take statements but sadly the payments were untraceable.
My heart crumbled as I told the kids the puppies weren't coming. I felt so helpless as I watched tears stream down their little faces.
I discovered the scammers were likely based overseas and had stolen the letterhead and details of a real pet insurance company to fool us.
A month later, the kids were still heartbroken so we decided to buy a new dog. This time I spoke to the breeder on the phone and got an actual address that we could visit. Thankfully, we soon had a gorgeous pug cross shih tzu named Jax.
A few weeks later, a friend told me she was about to buy a pup from a breeder online too.
When I looked at her emails I couldn't believe it. She'd been given the same story that was used on me! But this time the 'owner' was claiming she had a pomeranian pooch for sale.
Luckily, I saved my friend from the same heartbreak before she lost any money.
Now, I just hope my story serves as a warning. I don't want other kind-hearted Aussies to be conned.
We'd just been scammed out of $1380.
Managing Director of Pets Australia, Joanne Sillince, says...
Pet scams are not only on the rise, they have also become much more sophisticated. Con artists go to great lengths to trick animal lovers out of thousands of dollars. And it's not just puppies that lure people in - they're using cats, high-value fish and even rare birds as bait. If you are hoping to buy a new pet, protect yourself with these tips.
- Get an address for the breeder and physically go and see the animal.
- If you're buying a pet long-distance, offer payment to a local vet to check out the animal before exchanging money.
- Trust your gut. If something doesn't feel right, don't take the risk.
How to spot a scammer
- Avoiding calls: Phone numbers can be traced, so scammers prefer email. Try to get a landline number to ensure you're speaking with a legitimate breeder.
- Guilt tactics: If someone threatens to destroy an animal unless it's adopted, it could be a scam and they're playing on your emotions.
- Gradual payments: A popular tactic is to ask you for money for unexpected costs, such as vet checks or extra transportation fees.
- Bank details: Scammers often use a third-party money transfer service as these payments are untraceable.
- Lost in translation: Keep an eye on language. Poor grammar or unusual wording may be a red flag.
For more information, visit petsaustralia.org