SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. - Love can be blind. Puppy love can be expensive.
That’s because it can also be a scam, one with connections pointing just down the road to Atlanta.
"They fooled me," admitted Andrea Reeves.
The Social Circle woman is the latest victim of a growing internet scam, put on hyperdrive by lonely Americans stuck at home during the pandemic: puppy scams.
Americans stuck at home during the pandemic have led to an increase in online puppy scams like this one.
Andrea and her husband wanted a Doberman pinscher puppy but couldn’t find one locally. So the Walton County couple searched online and found Zero.
He was $1200, but only half off that week only.
Never mind the word "puppies" was spelled "pupppies" on the website. Never mind that the picture of the trainer was a man when the name listed was a woman. Never mind that much of the copy on the website seemed written by someone whose first language was not English.
As we mentioned, puppy love can be blind.
Andrea Reeves and her husband took $2279 from their honeymoon savings to pay for a puppy that never existed. She's determined to track down the people who stole their money.
"So $680 is what my husband paid from our joint account at first," said Andrea.
The next day Andrea got an email saying she had to make a refundable payment of $1599 for an air-conditioned crate to ship Zero to Social Circle since his health was now her legal responsibility.
"I was freaking out," she said. So they dipped into their honeymoon savings again and sent more money.
No surprise. Zero never showed.
So Andrea started digging. The Cash App the crooks gave her belonged to a woman with an Atlanta address. It was easy to find Tonia Ottley. Her homemade clothing business Epochal Array was on the Cash App account.
Andrea quickly sued her in Fulton County Magistrate Court, claiming she asked Ottley for a refund but "six times she declined, then deleted and blocked me."
"It’s really not about the money anymore," she explained. "My goal is to try to prevent anyone else from falling victim."
Would someone be that careless to use their real name in an online scam?
Tonia Ottley agreed to meet with puppy scam victim Andrea Reeves to help prove her innocence. But the FOX 5 I-Team kept digging.
The FOX 5 I-Team found Tonia Ottley. She told us she rarely looks at her Cash App account and only discovered evidence of fraud after we alerted her.
She insisted she was a victim, too, and agreed to meet with Andrea over Zoom.
"This is crazy," Tonia told Andrea. "That’s not the person that I am. I would never do that to anybody."
Two years ago the FOX 5 I-Team reported on a similar dog scam, people across the country paying for a dog online, then being told to drive to a specific Atlanta address for pickup.
But the homeowners had no connection to the scam. They had to deliver the bad news each time an angry stranger knocked on their door.
"Whatever we need to do to work together to resolve this… we have to crack down on these people because I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else," Tonia told Andrea.
When we posed as someone interested in buying a puppy, the same scammers sent us the Cash App belonging to second Atlanta woman, someone who also works in the adult entertainment industry. She did not respond to our requests for comment.
But the story doesn’t here. Scams always have a twist.
After the Zoom meeting, the FOX 5 I-Team kept digging.
Tonia told us she worked part-time bartending at a local strip club. When we posed as a potential customer to that same scam website, the crooks told us to send money to the Cash App account of another Atlanta woman who advertises in the adult entertainment business.
Then we found an Instagram page for Tonia called niathestyleguru.
In April 2020, someone complained online they were told by another puppy scammer to send money through Zelle to this address: email@example.com
Tonia’s name has also come up in other fake dog complaints posted to the website petscams.com.
Tonia refused to talk again on Zoom, but in a follow-up conversation, she said she only used the firstname.lastname@example.org to collect online coupons.
She maintained someone has apparently hacked multiple accounts.
"I’m just not buying it," Andrea said. "Something’s just not adding up."
Andrea is now filing criminal charges against Tonia.
Cash App would not talk specifically about this case, but the company says its policy is to fully cooperate with all law enforcement requests. That would apparently include all of Tonia’s Cash App transactions.
If you love puppies, you should read it before falling for another four-legged friend.
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