KENOSHA — When John Lanigan saw pictures of this precious poof ball online, he and his wife were in love. One of their Pomeranians had passed away and it was time for a new family member.
"Our kids have been our Pomeranians," Lanigan told Consumer Investigator Kristin Byrne over the phone.
"We were looking for another white Pomeranian," he said.
Lanigan used the mobile payment method, Zelle, to send over a $200 deposit for the dog he found on pomtrees.com, a site that is no longer up.
He showed Byrne a screenshot of the transaction. He and his wife got in the car and drove ten hours from Clintonville, Pennsylvania to an address in Kenosha, Wisconsin where they were told to pick up their eight-week-old pup.
"My wife texted him and said 'OK, we're getting ready to leave here. We're going to have breakfast and then we'll come to get the pup.' No answer," Lanigan explained.
"I picked my phone up. I called the number and it said it was disconnected," he continued.
The couple drove to the Kenosha house anyways. A man named Josh Vollmer answered the door. Vollmer doesn't have any dogs and isn't selling Pomeranian puppies.
"As soon as they mentioned they were here for a dog, I basically said, 'Not another one.'" Vollmer said.
Vollmer learned his home address has been given to people who live out of state who bought puppies online. Three separate families have come to his house looking for what they thought was their new four-legged family member.
"We initially got a visit in January or February. A couple had come looking for a dog and asking for a different name. We let them know we didn't have any dogs here and that the couple that used to live here, they had a dog but I don't think that was either of their names," said Vollmer.
Besides John Lanigan and his wife from Pennsylvania, a woman from Illinois made the drive to Vollmer's house and so did another person from Washington state.
Susan Eilman of Illinois said she went onto a separate website, lebijoumaltese.com, to purchase a Maltese puppy. That website is also no longer in existence.
In a police report, she showed to TMJ4 News, Eilman said she "believed the company was legit due to them having a website and responding with several pictures and information about the dog."
Eilman told TMJ4 News she paid $750 via the Apple Pay app and drove to Vollmer's house to pick up her Maltese puppy only to find out no one knew what she talking about.
"We're in some random suburban area. I don't know why they would pick us," said Vollmer.
"It's crazy. I mean, it's scary for us, especially when you have unknown visitors coming up and especially asking for a dog," Vollmer said.
"Everybody has been really nice and understanding with us, but what happens if that person is like, 'No, I want my dog. Where is it?'" Vollmer said.
One year into the pandemic and puppies are still a popular purchase and complaints of fraud are rising.
Consumers reported 337 complaints to the Better Business Bureau about puppy scams in November 2020. The same month in 2019, there were 77 complaints.
"The biggest increase in online shopping fraud is pet scams," said Lisa Schiller with the Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin.
The BBB reports its scam tracker system shows more reports about fraudulent pet websites in April than in the first three months of the year combined.
"The scammers will just simply lift photos of other sites, mostly legitimate sites and they will create their own website," Schiller explained.
To see if one of these pet websites is legitimate, the BBB suggests copying and pasting portions of the site into Google. If you find other puppy sites with the same reviews and photos, you should be suspicious.
Also, try and see a puppy in person before you pay. And, although mobile payment apps are popular, ask the seller if you can pay with a credit card, which offers the best protection to consumers.
Byrne called the phone number John Lanigan was given for his alleged puppy seller. We left a message and asked for a callback. We haven't gotten one yet.
"This guy here you know, I guess he suckered me right in," said Lanigan.
Lanigan ended up getting a puppy from Ohio. There's no resemblance to the Pomeranian he and his wife first set their hearts on. But this dog is real.
John Vollmer is monitoring his credit reports just in case someone tries to steal more than his address.
"The last visit that we got was Easter. We weren't home for that," Vollmer said.
"I hope no one else shows up to your house," Byrne said to Vollmer.
"I'll let you know if they do," he responded.
For tips on how to not get taken by fake puppy websites, check out the I-Team's Kristin Byrne's discussion with the Wisconsin BBB: