COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Pet fraud is a troubling trend with ties to the Pikes Peak Region; but a scheme that's preying on Colorado dog lovers has spiked amid the pandemic.
13 Investigates found dozens of people who have reported paying for a pet they never end up receiving. Some of the victims who live in Southern Colorado have been pulled into the deception without even knowing it.
"I saw Buddy and I just completely fell in love with him," Julie Avaglinao explained.
Julie was lured in by cute faces and little paws on Chubbyfrenchbulldogshome.com.
She lives in New Jersey but after her online search led her to 10-week-old Buddy in Colorado Springs, Julie couldn't resist.
The seller told her the distance wasn't a problem. They transported pups like Buddy on airplanes all across the country.
Julie only communicated with the breeder by text and email but felt confident in the process which seemed legitimate.
"They asked me what kind on what kind of home I have, where do I live. You know, are there other pets in the area. Do I have a vet close by? So naturally, I answered all those questions," Julie explained. "They got back to me and said OK, we feel that you're a fit to take on Buddy."
She even signed a contract before using a bank payment app to pay for the puppy.
"They wanted a payment from Zelle for $1,000. We moved forward with a delivery date of, I believe, December 19th," Julie said.
However, at two in the morning on the delivery date, Julie got a text saying weather conditions would require a special crate for Buddy. That crate apparently would cost $1,200, but Julie refused to pay another cent.
"It didn't stop there. I was contacted on a daily basis to a level where I was just arguing back and forth with this monster," Julie said.
She was never able to talk to them on the phone despite calling the number. After demanding a refund and getting nowhere, Julie eventually decided to file a report against the company with the Better Business Bureau. She also posted negative reviews on the Business Facebook page to warn others.
The seller's phone number is a 719 area code, as listed on the website. The contract Julie signed indicated the seller has an address in Colorado Springs.
13 Investigates reached out to them multiple times over the phone and by email, but we never heard back.
Our team then went to the address to try and track them down and the man who answered the door wasn't surprised.
"The first time that I had somebody come here was right before Christmas," Erwin Spruth said. "It was a gentleman who drove all the way from California said that he was here to pick up a puppy that he had purchased for his wife."
Since then, Erwin said five others have shown up on his doorstep trying to pick up puppies they bought.
When he realized fraudsters were using his address, he notified the postal service and the Colorado Springs Police Department. Erwin said a detective recently came out to interview him about the situation.
Erwin isn't happy fraudsters are using his address.
"I feel terrible about it. That's ridiculous. I mean, I'm not involved in it anyway at all. I'm just an innocent victim. And I don't even know how they got my address or why they choose to use it," Erwin said.
Julie and Erwin aren't the only victims -- 33 people reported being ripped off after paying for animals they never received in Southern Colorado.
It's likely just a fraction of the victims, as the BBB said reports suggest only a third of people file scam complaints. The BBB estimates over $3 million was lost to pet fraud in 2020.
The Colorado Attorney General's said pet scam complaints filed with his office have skyrocketed during the pandemic.
"In the year before, we had a negligible amount. So we went from essentially a handful to 50, over a 10-times increase because during the pandemic, people are preying on hopes in fears," said AG Phil Weiser.
Weiser said these cases are difficult to prosecute because often times it's hard to find those behind the fraud. Weiser said if they can find a reasonable target that isn't out of the country, his office does investigate. He recommends all victims report the fraud to his office at StopFraudColorado.gov.
"The best tips that we can offer is doing your research and checking out the business, checking out the website, doing a reverse image search on pictures of the puppies," said Adah Rodriguez with the Better Business Bureau.
Before putting down a deposit, the BBB recommends checking out the business on its online scam tracker.
It may be difficult to see an animal face-to-face during the pandemic, but experts recommend trying to see the animal over a virtual video conferencing app like Zoom. If a breeder doesn't want to video conference, it may be a sign to be wary of moving forward.
The BBB also says that legitimate pet breeders generally accept different forms of payment, including credit cards, which offer more protection.
It's protection Julie wishes she had after being out a significant amount of money with no puppy.
"I was devastated. My son was upset. It was around the holidays. I mean let's face it, that's $1,000, I could have put toward something else to make my son happy," Julie said.