Victims of alleged dog scam span Canada, but all blame N.L. woman
Breeders say their identities were compromised in online scheme
Elizabeth Halpin had spent years looking for a blue female Chinese Shar-Pei puppy.
In February, she finally decided to post a "dog wanted" ad on Kijiji.
The Langley, B.C., resident said a woman started texting her. She said her name was Helen Pasha, and she was a breeder in Vernon — about four hours away.
The woman sent along a photo of her Canadian Kennel Club registration for her kennel, Royal Paws.
"I called the CKC, and it was in fact a valid certificate," Halpin said. "I thought, 'OK … this seems legitimate.'"
Halpin sent e-transfers totalling $500 as a deposit for the dog.
Then, she started asking if she could do a video chat to see her new puppy — but was met with radio silence.
"That's when the real anger and sadness really set in," Halpin said.
"And I remember just sitting in my closet, just crying, because I felt like such an idiot."
While the certificate was real, the person was an imposter.
And Halpin was not the only victim.
CBC News has spoken with several people from across Canada who say they each lost hundreds of dollars after paying deposits for puppies that they never received.
They all say the alleged culprit is a woman living in a small town in Newfoundland.
Two dog breeders also say their identities were stolen and used in these scams, and they continue to receive calls from people pleading for their puppies.
Halpin did some research, and learned that Royal Paws is a kennel based in Montreal and Gatineau, Que.
Helen Pasha is a real person, and a real breeder.
She and her daughter, Jennifer Pasha, breed French bulldogs — not Shar-Peis.
It's honestly really devastating to see these people not get what they paid for, and them thinking that we are the actual scammers.- Jennifer Pasha
Jennifer Pasha said it's upsetting to get calls from people like Halpin.
"It really just breaks [my mom's] heart.… It's emotionally draining," she said.
"It's honestly really devastating to see these people not get what they paid for, and them thinking that we are the actual scammers."
Helen Pasha had shared her CKC certificate with someone claiming to be an interested buyer. But when that person requested more proof, she turned to her daughter.
"And I told her, 'Mom, this is a scam. Don't even think about sending your ID. It's personal information,'" recounted Jennifer Pasha.
She said since that happened over a year ago, she estimates they have heard from about 20 people, who lost about $500 each — though she said she didn't keep a list of names.
After losing money, another response
Meanwhile, just days after being scammed, Elizabeth Halpin got another text response to her ad. It was from a woman named Natalie Lenstra, who said she was a breeder from Kelowna, B.C.
As proof of identity, she sent photos of her CKC registration and her passport.
Halpin's suspicions kicked in right away. She found Natalie Lenstra on Facebook, and immediately got on a video call with her.
The real Natalie Lenstra is a 72-year-old Pomeranian breeder in Terra Cotta, Ont.
Lenstra told CBC News she remembers the moment that she handed over her personal information to the alleged scammer.
She received a text from a woman in February, who said she was interested in buying a dog, but was out of province, and wanted proof of her identity.
Lenstra sent along a photo of her CKC registration for her kennel, Pageant Poms. But the woman asked for a photo ID.
"Red flags went up a little bit, but … I took my passport photo, and I covered up my passport number and I covered up my birth date, and I sent that to her," Lenstra said.
"The next thing, I was getting more calls with screenshots of my personal ID being used."
Lenstra said the alleged scammer would tell customers that she was on the way to deliver their pets, but that her phone was dying, so to call her on another number. She then sent them Lenstra's phone number instead.
"People would call me and they say, 'Where's my dog? I've been waiting here for two hours, and we drove for 3½ hours. Where's my puppy?!'" Lenstra said.
"This went on for months. Basically, I was getting three, four calls per day."
Lenstra said she has spoken to about 35 people who say they were victimized, losing between $150 to $700 each.
Overwhelmed by the amount of ongoing calls, Lenstra went on a mission to try to warn others. She said she spent up to 18 hours a day responding to people who had posted "Pet Wanted" ads on Kijiji.
She started responding to ads in Ontario. When she heard Halpin's story, she moved on to ads in B.C. Then, to Alberta and Nova Scotia.
"I really feel badly for people, because it's almost tear-jerking," she said.
"Instead of looking forward and doing things with my family, going outside or doing some gardening or whatever, I'm sitting on my phone, responding to people's pain."
Victims in Ontario
But the warnings didn't reach everyone.
In May, Mary Razjouyan and her husband were looking to buy a male Doberman puppy for their family.
The Ottawa residents posted an ad online, and her husband got a response from someone named Brittany Osborne.
Osborne said she was a dog breeder originally from Newfoundland and Labrador but had moved to a farm in nearby Kingston.
"We sent her a bank transfer of $400, and she promised that she would deliver the puppy the following day," said Razjouyan.
But she never showed.
By late afternoon, Razjouyan's husband texted the woman to say he wanted his money back.
But the woman said, since he had already contacted police and the bank, her account was frozen and she couldn't return the cash.
Another Ontario family was scammed in early June — but they did get their money refunded.
Bella Farrell-Sonnenburg, 17, had been saving up from her part-time job to buy a female blue French bulldog puppy.
The Frankford resident was contacted by a woman calling herself Brittany Coralynn, who said she was the owner of Royal Paws kennel in London.
Farrell-Sonnenburg sent a $250 deposit. The receipt shows it was deposited to Brittany Osborne.
When the woman started ignoring her texts, Farrell-Sonnenburg went to her mom, Dayna Farrell.
"She explained that she had started to do some research and she found [out] about [the Royal Paws] kennel being in Quebec, and that it was a scam," said Farrell.
Farrell then contacted the woman and demanded that her daughter's money be returned.
Farrell said at first, the woman denied it — but a few days later, she received Facebook messages from a woman named Brittany Mahaney.
"Sorry for what I did, it was [a] mistake," read one message.
Farrell said she was shocked the cash was returned.
"That was the main goal, was to try to get her money back … but that doesn't change the fact that it still happened," said Farrell.
All of the victims say they believe Brittany Osborne — who also goes by her maiden name, Mahaney — is responsible.
According to court documents, Brittany Cora Lynn Osborne, 25, lives in Harbour Grace, N.L.
CBC News has found that she appears to have at least 10 different Facebook accounts, spanning a combination of those names.
According to her criminal record, Osborne was found guilty of fraud under $5,000 in 2014 and 2017.
She's facing five unrelated charges, including two counts of fraud, theft under $5,000, and extortion.
Osborne is due back in court Aug. 5.
CBC News emailed her at an address used by the alleged scammer.
A woman who identified herself as Brittany Osborne called back.
In a voicemail to CBC News, the woman said some of these pet scam allegations are true, while others are false — though she did not elaborate further.
Osborne said she had a rough upbringing and has been struggling with mental health and addictions issues for "a long, long time."
"My addictions made me turn to … scams," she said.
"[There are] six other people [that are] involved in this as well, that were doing the e-transfers. And now that [I've given it] up, they are doing it … and everyone is thinking that I'm still behind it."
Osborne did not respond to followup requests for an interview.
Meanwhile, the RCMP said it is investigating these pet scam allegations.
"While charges have not yet been laid, the investigations are continuing," said Cpl. Jolene Garland.
Spreading awareness about pet scams
All of the victims, including Elizabeth Halpin, say they want justice to be served.
"The police know this is happening … and they're well aware of how many people this is [affecting]," Halpin said.
"This is something that has gone on for a long time, and I am not the last person that's going … to have this done to them, until they start doing something about it."
While she didn't get her money back, there is a happy ending to Halpin's tale.
Days after she lost her money, Halpin saw an ad online for a woman in a nearby town who had rescued Shar-Pei puppies — the same breed she and her boyfriend had been looking for.
After some discussion, they went to go check out the puppies in person — and one stole their hearts.
"I just broke down into tears, and I knew right then and there that we were taking her home," Halpin said.
Halpin has some advice for anyone who may have been tricked.
"Don't be ashamed that this happened to you.… It happens to a lot of people, and identity theft is a [real] thing," she said.
Now, she spends her time reaching out to others, to raise awareness about pet scams.
"I also should have just done a ton more research. I shouldn't have led with my excitement and my hopefulness of a puppy.… I should have really just led with intellect and … not believe anything until I knew real proof," she said.
"I have no hope for my money … but if I can save at least a handful of other people or stop this completely, then it's worth more than my money."