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Woman: I Thought With Heart, Not Head

Video: Woman Scammed When Buying Dogs Online

WINDHAM, Conn. -- After hours of online searching, Charlene Lagasse said she found the perfect little dogs.

"So I e-mailed this lady and it sounded so wonderful, two little dogs, their little clothes are coming with them, this and that," said Lagasse, a Windham resident. "They've got a name. I was just so excited."

Lagasse said she found the ad posted on Connecticut Backpage, an online classifieds site.

She admitted when contacting the Channel 3 I-Team that she was shopping with her heart, not her head. She said she had recently put down her beloved companion of 18 years and was finally ready for some company.
"It had been a while since I had her put down, and I kept saying, 'Maybe it's time for me to get a new puppy,'" Lagasse said.

She said she was reassured when the woman who posted the ad e-mailed back and wanted to know about her.

She wanted to know things "like what kind of an area do you live in? Do you own your own home? This, that, whatever, which is understandable, because you want to make sure you know where these dogs are going so they're in a good home," Lagasse said.

Lagasse said she was told the little Yorkie puppies were free but that she would have to pay the $240 to ship them from the Seattle area to her home in Windham. She said she knew that for online transactions, it's best to pay by credit card or online with PayPal.

When she received a call from the "courier" company, she said, they told her they'd only accept money by wire transfer, like Western Union. It made her nervous, she said, but all she could think of was how badly she wanted the two little dogs. The wire cost her $10, she said, so she'd invested $250 in the pair of Yorkie puppies.

"I just walked right into that," Lagasse said. "I had my doubts and just didn't want to believe it."

After wiring the money, she said she got another call from the courier. She said they claimed she needed to pay for the cages, which cost another $500. When she said no, they dropped the price to $250, then $100. Eventually, she said, they stopped returning her calls.

"So they'll keep going until they get every penny they can get out of you," Lagasse said.

She said she called her local police department, then the FBI when she discovered through some online digging that the address they gave her to wire the money wasn't in the Seattle area. She said she found that the money went to Cameroon in western Africa.

Lagasse said the FBI agent she spoke to was nice but that they're too busy to help track down $250.

"They're just collecting all this money, and nobody can stop them," she said.

"Once the money is wired, it disappears and will never be traced or recovered, essentially, because it's anonymous," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.

The Channel 3 I-Team took Lagasse's complaints to Blumenthal, who said his office has received other complaints from people who tried to buy pets online, ended up wiring money to Africa, and never got their pets.

"Never buy puppies online," he said. "Never wire money to buy any pet, and if possible, always see how the pet is living, meet him or her before you buy, because there's no substitute for actually seeing online."

The Channel 3 I-Team tried reaching the woman who supposedly offered the pets for sale. She didn't return any e-mails the I-team sent, and the numbers she listed were out of service.

While searching, the Channel 3 I-Team found the ad Lagasse saw posted on Connecticut Backpage, except it was posted on a site aimed at Las Vegas. The I-Team also found the same contact e-mail listed for other pets for sale online.

"There's so many of those ads out there, but until you get hit with one like I just did, I would have never believed that those were scams, but it's going to happen to a lot of people without them even realizing what's going on," Lagasse said.

She said it's a tough lesson, especially since she's now limited to watching friends' dogs while they're away and won't be able to afford one of her own for a while.

"I still would like two little ones to run around, but now my $250 is gone, so forget it," Lagasse said. "I'll have to work and save my money up again."

This time, she said, she'll make sure she sees the puppy before parting with any cash.
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