Day after day, week after week, month after month, the strangers came knocking and asked one question: Where’s my puppy? Rochelle Dallons couldn’t help them. She had recently purchased her dream home, in charming Leesburg, Virginia, outside Washington D.C. But criminals took a liking to her home address — the site of a long-empty home, the perfect spot for a scam. They deceived pet-seekers into placing orders for puppies that didn’t exist, then sent them on a wild goose chase to Dallons home.
A small army of victims would drive to her home, sometimes from 12 hours away. Cars full of excited children, eager new pandemic puppy parents, and lonely elderly folks drove up, knocked on her door, and went away sad. Some got angry. Some called the police, thinking Dallons was in on the crime. Things got so bad she had to put a “no puppies” sign on her door, along with directions to the local police station. And police interrogated Dallons over and over, thinking she just might be in on it. Meanwhile, they told her she couldn’t really file a police report. After all, what’s the crime? She wasn’t the “victim.”
This is one of the strangest scam stories I’ve ever worked on, but it’s not *that* uncommon, I was told by Paul Brady, who runs PetScams.com.
Scams often impact more victims than meets the eye. The skepticism they breed hurts legitimate businesses and theft forces them to raise prices so consumers pay more. But there are more hidden victims — innocent bystanders, collateral damage along the way like people whose homes are used as drop spots for stolen packages or people whose pictures are stolen to make fake real estate ads or fake dating profiles. Our laws just haven’t kept up.
I hope you’ll listen to Rochelle Dallons tell this amazing story, and Paul Brady offer up some clever tips about how to stop it — along with good suggestions on vetting your puppy purchase. Click play below or visit The Perfect Scam at Apple Podcasts to listen.
[00:04:03] Rochelle Dallons: Yes. So it was pro–, it was the summer after we moved in, just you know, minding my own business, and somebody came to the door, and I answered, and they said… oh, and when, of course I have dogs, also, so when the doorbell rings, my dogs go crazy. And I went to the front door, and there was this lady with her friend who said, “Hi,” you know, “I’m, I’m here to pick up the puppy.” And I looked at her and I was really kind of confused at first, and I said, “Are you sure you have the right address?” And she said, “Yeah.” And she had like a folder of papers, and she opened the folder, and she pointed to the address, and she said, “This is right, right?” And I said, “Yes, that is correct,” I said, “but I don’t have any puppies here.” And you know, you could just see the, the blood just drain from her face, like she was like, “What?” And so she showed me all the paperwork and she was supposedly supposed to get a Pomeranian puppy. She had already put money down for the puppy, and she drove, I think she said it was um, five or six hours from North Carolina. And I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
[00:05:33] Bob: Someone had come to the door. The door of Rochelle’s dream home looking to pick up a puppy she purchased online after driving nearly six hours.
[00:05:44] Rochelle Dallons: I didn’t know what was going on and so I invited her in, and we sat down, and we went through the folder that she had, which it wasn’t a lot of information, but it was at least like the website she went on and the person’s name, and their phone number. And so, I called the number from my phone, and the guy picked up, and you know I started talking to him about my house and the puppies, and he, he immediately hung up on me. And the interesting thing was about 15 minutes later I tried to call him back at the same number, and that number was already out of service.
[00:06:25] Bob: On my God, you’re kidding!
[00:06:27] Rochelle Dallons: No.
[00:06:27] Bob: Wow.
[00:06:28] Rochelle Dallons: It was already out of service. Keep in mind that these people did not know me, and they, you know, they drove all this way thinking they were going to get their, this puppy that they’d been looking forward to, so they were very rattled, um, and, and kind of, you know, shaken. So that was our first experience.
[00:06:45] Bob: But soon, there are more knocks at the door.
[00:06:48] Rochelle Dallons: So, after this woman left, I think about a week went by, and the next weekend I had two different couples come. One had a child with them, and another was a, was a very elderly person that lost her dog recently and was trying, you know, wanted a, a puppy. So both were very emotionally charged because the first had a child and you know, when I, and when they came, I was like it, when they said, “Do you have a puppy?” I was just baffled that another one, right, another person was looking for a puppy now. And so the, the child was, you know, I had to tell them that it wasn’t true, and the, the child was crying, and it was just terrible. And then soon thereafter there was another couple, this was the elderly couple, and the person who came with her, said, you know, explained that their, their dog had passed, and they were wanting another puppy. They had already paid money, and they drove in from Kansas. So Kansas to Virginia is quite a long way. So of course, she was devastated. She was inconsolable. It was not good.
[00:08:16] Bob: So this family shows up and they have a child who’s excited to get a puppy.
[00:08:20] Rochelle Dallons: Yes.
[00:08:21] Bob: I, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to tell a child that there is no puppy.
[00:08:26] Rochelle Dallons: Well I was crying by that time, too. I just couldn’t believe this was happening, and I couldn’t believe it was happening to little children who had no idea. All they knew was that after this long drive, they were have–, going to have a puppy. And, and I had to be the one to tell them that it wasn’t true.
[00:08:42] Bob: That just sounds awful. And then somebody drives more than a thousand miles from Kansas to your house, and you have to tell them the bad news too?
[00:08:51] Rochelle Dallons: Oh yes.
[00:08:52] Bob: These visits are hardly a coincidence. After talking with these three buyers, it’s obvious what’s happening. Someone is selling puppies to people and sending the buyers to Rochelle’s house to pick them up. But Rochelle has nothing to do with all this. She had told the other visitors to file police reports, but this third time she decides to call the police herself. At first that doesn’t go so well.