Nova Scotia

Couple hounded by confused, scammed strangers looking for free puppies

For the past two years people have been coming to Lara and Brett Ryan's home in Fergusons Cove, N.S., to pick up a free puppy. But it is a scam.

People have driven sometimes thousands of kilometres to Halifax only to find they've been scammed

Over the past two years people were sent to a Halifax-area home thinking they were getting a free puppy—including corgis, toy poodles, a lab and a Jack Russell terrier. (Getty Images/Moment Open)

Lara and Brett Ryan have had to disappoint many people who come knocking at their door.

For the past two years, people have been coming to their Fergusons Cove, N.S., home to pick up a free puppy after being misled by a scammer.

People walk up to their house with a big smile on their face, said Lara Ryan.

"We're still stunned by it, you know, strangers coming to the door and we kinda go, 'Hello, what are you looking for?' and by this time we're going, 'Please don't tell us you've come for a puppy,'" Ryan told CBC's Mainstreet.

Ryan has had to explain the scam to at least eight couples who've just spent hours travelling from Toronto, Saint John, Fredericton and St. John's. On Thursday, they turned away a couple who had driven from Montreal.

'Weird conversation'

"It's such a weird conversation that we have with these people because we have to tell them that it's a scam and they must feel like we're in on it somehow," she said.

But they quickly figure out the Ryans have nothing to do with the scam, she said. 

"They think they've won the jackpot with this free puppy. Of course it's the perfect puppy, it's exactly what they've been looking for and here's a family that they think they're going to help and they're obviously disappointed," she said.

The scam stories vary, Ryan said. A child is in hospital or there is a sick relative who can't take care of a dog.

The would-be dog owners are taken in with cute pictures of corgis, toy poodles, a lab and a Jack Russell terrier.

People drive, opting to avoid a shipping fee

After some correspondence, the person will offer to ship the puppy to them for a fee.

But instead of sending money, some have opted instead to pick up the puppy. That's when the person gives out Ryan's address and arranges for a pickup time.  

Ryan said, at first, she and her husband had trouble figuring out what the scam was because these people driving sometimes thousands of kilometres hadn't paid any money upfront.

She figured enough people must send money for shipping that it's worth it to keep the scam going.

"The really awful thing is that the scammer knows at this point that these people are slipping his noose but he doesn't tell them the difference. He still carries on with the scam," she said.

"It seems to me very mean. As if the scam isn't bad enough but he's got this nasty twist at the end that he keeps these people hanging on who haven't given him any money."

The person has been communicating with some people up until 10 minutes before they reach Ryan's home, she said.

She doesn't know why her address was chosen.

BBB investigation

Last fall, Halifax's Better Business Bureau investigated a set of scammers promising puppies in exchange for shipping costs. Communications co-ordinator Kristin Matthews said since then, the scammers have changed the name of the fake shipping company but they continue to bilk people out of thousands of dollars. 

Matthews said in her investigation last year she gathered documents on the scammers that used the Fergusons Cove address, so she knows the same people are behind both. 

"We can confirm that the two cases are definitely related," she said.  

Matthews said the latest version of the scam directs people to a fake company called Safeway Shipping Service. 

No such company is registered in Nova Scotia, and the address listed on its website is for a Gladstone Street residential condominium building in Halifax. 

Matthews said she was recently contacted by a person who lost $1,100 in the puppy scam.

"Just today actually, we received an email wondering if this company was legitimate," she said. "We went to the website and it was the exact same website layout, same addresses that the company before was reporting.

"So they are at it again, we have seen."

Can't trace IP address

Matthews said she does not think the addresses the scammers choose have much significance.

"A lot of people will just go on and choose random addresses," she said. "I do know this [Fergusons Cove address] is outside of the city so it's possible that they may have chosen an address outside of the city because it's less populated."

At one point the scammers also used the address of the Halifax airport in Enfield. 

The people who've spoken to Ryan tell her they were also asked to wire money, with the scammer mentioning that he's having trouble with his bank account. Ryan said that should be a red flag.

The RCMP have told Ryan there's nothing they can do to pursue the puppy scammer as they can't trace the IP address.

"They could be anywhere," she said. "So what they say is try and get the word out and try and let people know that these scams are happening."

With files from Mainstreet

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