A Beaver County woman and other Pennsylvanians lost money in a recent online puppy fraud scheme perpetrated, in part, by a man living in Romania, a lawsuit alleges.
A New Brighton woman fell prey to an online scam in March when she tried to buy a dog for her mother online, new court records show.
The woman hoped to purchase a puppy named “Pansy” from a website advertising mini-dachshunds. She first received a text from a man indicating the dog was available for $600, and subsequently sent him the money via Walmart gift cards.
She then received a “transfer of ownership” form and an email indicating Pansy would be shipped through “Pets Fly America” from Texas to Pittsburgh within days. But unfortunately, the woman was told, Pansy was rerouted to Oklahoma for “COVID-19 quarantine,” and the seller required additional fees to deliver the dog.
(Desmond) Fodje Bogda and his co-conspirators exploited a national pandemic – and the social isolation it engendered – to exploit victims with photos of cute puppies and to bilk extra costs under the pretense of COVID.
U.S.ATTORNEY SCOTT BRADY
The Beaver County woman ultimately paid $9,100 in wire payments through Western Union for fake services, including insurance and comfortable shipping crates, for a dog that never arrived.
Now, Desmond Fodje Bobga, a 27-year-old Cameroon citizen living in Romania on a student visa, is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, forging a seal of the U.S. Supreme Court and aggravated identity theft for his alleged involvement in the puppy fraud schemes.
From June 2018, Fodje Bobga knowingly conspired with others to offer puppies and other animals for sale on websites including lovelyhappypuppy.com, the lawsuit alleges. He and others communicated by text message and email with potential victims to induce pet purchases.
Fodje Bobga, who has been arrested, allegedly defrauded hundreds of American consumers, including the New Brighton woman and at least three other western Pennsylvania residents.
A victim from Cheswick tried to purchase a Chihuahua named Bentley, sending a $600 MoneyGram to the alleged seller. After being contacted repeatedly regarding problems with payments, transportation and permits, the victim lost $1,500.
A third Pennsylvanian in Marion Center lost $600 in the scam, and a person from Pittsburgh was encouraged to send money but became suspicious before sending any payments.
“The dog adoption market can be a breeding ground for catfish schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Scott Brady. “Fodje Bogda and his co-conspirators exploited a national pandemic — and the social isolation it engendered — to exploit victims with photos of cute puppies and to bilk extra costs under the pretense of COVID.”
Following each purchase, the alleged scammers claimed a transportation company would deliver the animals and provided a false tracking number for the pets. Then, acting as the transportation company, the group claimed transport was delayed and asked the victim to pay additional money.
More recently, victims were told their pet had been exposed to the coronavirus and would require additional funds for transportation. No pets were ever delivered.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has created the perfect condition for unscrupulous pet
sellers to thrive,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. “This suspect exploited this website to sell puppies and capitalized on people looking for companion animals online during this difficult time.”
Among the fake documents used in the scam was a “Refundable Crate and Vaccine Guarantee Document” purportedly issued by the Supreme Court that bore the court’s seal and clerk’s signature.
Wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges hold a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and seal forging holds a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Aggravated identity theft holds a mandatory two years in prison in addition to the other sentences.
The FBI Pittsburgh field office conducted the investigation leading to the domain seizures and criminal complaint in the case. The U.S. Justice Department Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance, as did law enforcement authorities in Romania, officials said.
The Better Business Bureau reports a dramatic spike in online pet scams this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Growing isolation amid lockdowns is prompting many to seek new companion animals, but the BBB advises consumers to exercise extreme caution when purchasing a pet online.
The group suggests buyers never wire money or use gift cards to purchase an animal. Always meet the animal first in person, or consider reaching out to a local animal shelter to adopt or foster a pet instead.