Puppy scam: victims on both sides of the door

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Scams always have a clear goal: tell a lie that's clever enough to trick someone out of their money.

But an online scam involving puppies has left at least one Atlanta homeowner confused. Why are crooks giving out his address as part of their scheme?

Less than a year after he and his girlfriend bought their home, a stream of excited people began showing up on their porch with the same expectation: to take home a purebred puppy they thought they had bought online.

It was left to the homeowner to deliver the truth: they'd been taken.

"I wish I could warn them to do something ahead of time," he told me as long as we agreed not to use his name. "But I don't even know when they're coming."

According to the Atlanta police report one victim filed, they searched on Facebook for puppies and found adorable photos on a site offering them for sale. After talking to the seller over the phone and through texts, they agreed to send a deposit through PayPal and were told to pick up their new dog at that same address in Atlanta.

The home happens to be equipped with multiple surveillance cameras. We reviewed the recordings of victims as they walked up the steps and received the bad news through the intercom.

"I'm here to check on a dog," said one man who had driven from Virginia.

"Sorry, it's a scam actually," said the homeowner. "Someone's using my address."

"Are you kidding me?"

No kidding. The homeowner says as many as 15 people have made the fateful trip.

"We drove down from Detroit," said one of three men who showed up in January.

"Oh man, sorry about that," replied the homeowner.

Another admitted he was armed.

"It seemed a little sketchy," he remarked to the homeowner who had cracked open his door to explain he had no puppies. "I brought my gun because I didn't know about the neighborhood or anything. We drove three hours."

Shawn Cox drove five hours from Clarkesville, TN. She told me the person who claimed over the phone to be selling a blue female Chihuahua had a foreign accent.

"Of course, when they opened the door and there's nothing, then that whole emotion of disappointment came over," Cox said.

She insisted only paying once she saw her puppy. Yet the crooks never stopped her from driving to that Atlanta address, even if it meant she'd figure out the truth.

The homeowner can't understand why they picked his place.

"I have no idea. No idea. I've been here almost a year now. And it doesn't make any sense.”

Adding to the mystery – other breeder scams using Atlanta addresses within a few miles of this one. The owner of a Bichon breeder site complained to the Better Business Bureau that another website stole her pictures to trick people into thinking they were dealing with a legitimate breeder. Some of the testimonials match her site word for word. There's even a picture of her husband posted on the other site. According to her complaint, the fake site claimed to be breeding puppies at another Atlanta address. There's no one living there. One victim complained she was supposed to pick up her dog at yet another address in the same part of town.

That suspicious website has since disappeared. But last month, a new one appeared with the same photos, once again directing people to that other Atlanta address.

“I would be very scared if someone was giving out my address and sending strangers to my door," admitted Shawn Cox, the woman who wasted a trip to Atlanta from Clarkesville, TN.

Yet for all the wickedness in the world, that surveillance camera helped prove that dog lovers can also be good people.

Even though they might have had reason to be angry, not one lashed out at that cautious homeowner. Each time he told them the truth, they took him at his word, apologized for the trouble and headed back to their car.

Regardless, it would be a long drive back home.

(This story began with a tip to our Call For Action Center.)