CHICAGO (CBS) — Imagine losing a furry member of the family and finding hope of reuniting – only to have that hope yanked from you.
Thanks to a scammer targeting lost pet owners, that scenario is becoming more common in the Chicago area.
As CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported Tuesday on some people who were targeted by the scammers, and ways to avoid the trap.
Carlotta Trevino calls her dog Scooby her angel. But she has not seen Scooby since July.
She keeps hope alive, which is also what almost made her an easy target.
“I received a text message: ‘I have Scooby. I’ve had him for two months,’ so I was ecstatic,” Trevino said.
And her response was swift.
“(I said), ‘God bless you for finding him!’ So I asked him, when could I pick up the dog? And he says, ‘I need money,’” Trevino said. “I’m like, ‘Money? Well show me proof that you have my dog.’”
But the anonymous texter never gave that proof. Trevino became suspicious and posted in a Facebook group for lost pet owners and realized quickly from the comments that she was not alone.
“Then everybody starts, like, ‘That happened to me, it happened to me, it happened to me,’” Trevino said.
Cheyenne Daege is one of many people CBS 2’s Parra talked to who said the same thing. When her pup Kayleigh went missing, just like Carlotta, she posted in a Facebook group along with her number.
Shortly afterward came a hopeful text, followed up with a demand.
“They wanted $1,500,” Daege said.
She showed a text that demanded a ransom for her dog, and threatened the dog’s life if she told police or anyone else.
The hope was again deflated, and followed quickly with suspicion.
“Most of my texts were just me saying, you know: ‘OK, how did you get my dog? Like, where did they find him?’” Daege said.
And those anonymous texts claimed to have the missing pet all shared one thing in common.
“After I told him that I didn’t have no money, he said, ‘Bye!’” Trevino said.
“They just stopped replying,” Deage said.
The pet owners felt a mixture of devastation and anger.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous and it’s absolutely sick,” Daege said.
“To other people, it’s just an animal, but to the pet’s mother, dad, brother, sisters, it’s a family member!” Trevino said.
To keep this from happening, it is a good idea to use a third party’s phone number when setting up a notice of a lost pet than using a personal number. If someone does text you, ask for proof they have your pet and meet up somewhere public such as a police station.