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NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — Cynthia Lopez jumped at the chance to get free Yorkshire terrier puppies when she saw a classified ad in the Sunday Star-Telegram.
After all, she wanted a small dog to carry around the house and to be a companion to the family’s two Jack Russell terriers.
But Thursday, Lopez discovered that she almost became a victim of an African puppy scam — one of the most common schemes in this country in the last two years.
Last year, the American Kennel Club and the Better Business Bureau sent out warnings to puppy buyers to beware of offers of free animals in exchange for sharing shipping costs. Both agencies received many complaints from consumers who had been swindled out of hundreds of dollars after responding to online or newspaper classified advertisements for puppies.
"They make it where someone needs to save these dogs," said Michelle Barlak of the AKC in New York City. "The truth is that no dogs are suffering."
Lopez said that the owner in her case posed as a preacher, sent her pictures of Yorkies and told her they would die in Africa because of the weather there.
To get the puppies for free, Lopez would have to pay half the $500 shipping costs.
"I told my husband about it on Wednesday, and he told me he had heard of scams," she said. "I did some checking, and that’s what it was."
Lopez said Friday that she had received over 20 telephone calls from the owner, trying to get her to send the money — all but one call have gone unanswered.
The puppy scam warning: In May 2007, the Better Business Bureau and the AKC sent out news releases warning consumers that the scam artists generally communicate through e-mail, affiliate themselves with a religious organization and claim they need to relocate puppies.
How the scam started: The ad in the Star-Telegram touted free registered Yorkshire puppies, and prospective owners only needed to send their requests to an e-mail address. When Lopez answered it, she got an e-mail back from a "Rev. James White." The e-mail started with "Greetings to you from the house of the Lord."
The e-mail said that White was married with three children and they were on a missionary trip to West Africa. The family had two Yorkies — Terra and Cahced — who needed to be sent back to the United States.
The e-mail asked for her full name, mailing address, telephone number, cellphone number and the nearest airport.
Almost a victim: After showing interest in the dogs, Lopez said, she received e-mails and text messages from White.
One e-mail said Lopez needed to pay $300.
"I asked why my share had increased, and he said there were additional taxes that I had to pay," she said. "I also noticed that I was sending the money to a different agency."
Star-Telegram: Generally, classified employees are trained to watch for ads that in the past have been known to be fraudulent, officials said. But a few get by and end up in the paper, officials said.
The ad that Lopez read ran in the paper three days and was removed Tuesday after classified officials received complaints about it.
"We try to do our best to safeguard from any fraudulent advertisements," said Brian Young, the Star-Telegram’s classified advertising director. "But it’s impossible to stop."
Cautious: Lopez said the incident has left her skeptical.
"I’m more aware of things; I’m going to ask a lot more questions now," she said. "I will be watching out more."
_________________ "I didn't know Oscar was a pimp!" Chibuike
"simple....go fuck a tree trunk" Phillip Johnson
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