Phil Luciano: Taking a bite out of puppy scam

Phil Luciano

Cathy wanted a pal for her pooch.

The 10-year-old Yorkie mix lost her "best friend" upon the death of Cathy's other dog, an American Staffordshire terrier, Cathy says.

"She is very lonely and needs a buddy," Cathy says.

So she jumped at a recent classified ad in the Peoria Journal Star:

Two teacup Yorkshire terrier babies for adoption. They are AKC registered, home raised, vaccinated and health guaranteed.

The ad offered no phone number but listed an e-mail. Excited, Cathy made her first contact. She was even more thrilled to find out that the dogs were free, as long as they would go to a loving home.

That's quite the bargain. Yorkies can cost more than $1,000. Free seemed too good to be true. So Cathy made her case.

"I used to do rescue work with animal shelters," Cathy gushed in another e-mail. "I have also had show dogs."

As e-mails were traded back and forth, Cathy became encouraged that she would get one of the dogs. Everything seemed perfect until she learned about a complex back story.

The guy on the other end of the e-mails said he and his wife are Christian missionaries in west Africa. When they arrived there recently, the puppies - Cache and Terra - were fine. Then trouble arose.

"We later noticed that the weather here in Africa is very, very bad for the puppies. ..." read the e-mail. "I don't want them to die."

Pulls on the old heartstrings, eh? It did for Cathy - especially as the e-mail included photos of the lovable pets

Then she learned about shipping costs. The sender said he'd pick up part of the tab, but he couldn't cover it all. He asked Cathy to pay the rest: $600.

Cathy smelled a rat and called this paper. The ad department showed me the e-mails.

I e-mailed the purported Yorkie owner. Amazingly, the dogs were still available. I got the same missionary pitch, then the request for $600 for shipping.

"I've spent a lot here for the puppies' health care," he wrote. "And I've also spent a lot for our Christian mission."

I sent him another e-mail explaining a stroke of good luck. I told him (OK, lied to him) that I have friends who soon would arrive in west Africa for a two-week mission. As such, they could pick up the dogs and bring them back to America.

I asked how I could arrange for the dog transfer. That was more than a week ago. Still no word back.


As you can guess by now, this is a scam - and an increasingly common one, as newspapers nationally are reporting. Like most papers, the Journal Star looks over ads before publication. But this one had no mention of Africa or anything else suspicious - just the offer of dogs for sale.

Still, it's not the first time the scam has raised eyebrows locally. Bonne Bakin, president of the Better Business Bureau of Central Illinois, says she first heard inquiries about online offers of African dogs about a year ago. As far as she knows, no one took the bait.

But that's not the only African-tinged racket reported to the BBB. Bakin has heard of offers of other animals, including exotic cats and prairie dogs.

I can't imagine why anyone would want a prairie dog. Still, if you're in the market for any animal, don't send your money overseas. Buy locally. Maybe look in the phone book for Prairie Dogs R Us.

Phil Luciano can be reached at or (309) 686-3155.