Con artist scams woman searching for her missing dog near Conroe

HOUSTON – A new scam is targeting people who have lost a pet.

Unfortunately, the most recent victim was Conroe’s Lisa Sousley.

Sousley and her daughter Zoe love their dog, Spooky. Spooky and Zoe are only a year apart and have grown up together.

“We found out when she was 9 months old [that] she was autistic.”

So for Zoe, Spooky, her service dog, is more than just a pet. He’s family.

“He sleeps with her,” noted Sousley. “I mean, he loves her.”

Sousley and her daughter are staying in the city while her mother undergoes heart surgery. They knew the commute from Conroe would be too much during this difficult time.

“We drove to our house in Conroe to pick the dog up because we knew we would be staying here a few more days,” she added.

On the way back to the hotel, Sousley says she stopped at the H-E-B on Rayford Road.

She left Zoe and Spooky in the car for a few minutes. When she returned, Spooky was gone. He had jumped out of the window. But because Zoe is non-verbal, she couldn’t tell Sousley where he ran off to. She immediately posted on Nextdoor and Facebook, hoping someone would recognize him.

“I posted on there and said we were in the parking lot at H-E-B. That’s where I went wrong,” she said. “I put my phone number in there.”

One day later, she got a text.

“She says ‘Hi I am Donna, did you lose your male dog?’” the woman said.

The person texting her asked for her to send a Google verification code to prove she was in fact Spooky’s owner.

“Of course, I’m not thinking anything of it,” explained Sousley. “I’m like, ‘OK,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, you can.’”

The person texting even asked for a family member or friend’s number. She provided them with that as well.

After posting the interaction on Nextdoor, neighbors helped her realize it was a scam. The grammar wasn’t correct and the texts sounded slightly robotic.

So, she quickly blocked the number but it didn’t end there.

Because she had clicked the link to get the Google code, her information was exposed. Within the day, she had multiple others saying they also have Spooky. She says she also gets non-stop spam calls.

“For them to call saying they have your dog and to get my hopes up like that, it sucks.”

She said she cleared her saved passwords and any sensitive information saved through her Google account.

The website called PawBoost is a popular place to post information about lost pets.

The BBB encourages victims to file reports at BBB Scam Tracker to help warn others.

Here’s how the scam works:

You recently lost your pet, so you post photos of your pet throughout your neighborhood or turn to social media to alert friends and neighbors. You create a public post – or even a group – to help spread the word. You share your phone number and other details, so people can easily reach you.

A few days later, you get a text message from someone claiming to have found your lost dog or cat. You ask them to describe your pet and/or send a photo, but the conversation quickly takes a strange turn. The scammer will give excuses, such as being out of town or not having a working smartphone, for why they can’t snap a photo. Instead, the person will pressure you for money (or a gift card) to return your pet. Although you may be tempted to do anything to see your dog or cat returned safely, don’t pay up! The scammer doesn’t have your pet. They will just take the money and disappear.

In other cases, the pet has actually been stolen, and the scammer will ask for payment for the safe return-- or they may try to sell your pet online to another person.

Follow these tips to prevent falling victim to a pet loss scam:

  • Limit the information in your social posts: If you post on Facebook or other social media, omit information about unique physical attributes.  This can help you verify if someone really found your pet.
  • Watch for spoofed numbers: If you get a call from someone claiming to have your pet, ask them for a phone number where you can call them back. Scammers often spoof phone numbers, so they appear to be calling from somewhere else.
  • Ask for a photo: If a caller claims to have your pet in their possession, ask them to send a current picture. If the “finder” gets defensive or makes a lot of excuses, it’s a red flag.
  • Never wire money or use a prepaid debit card to pay anyone you don’t know. This is the same as sending cash.
  • Never give out personal passwords or login information.
  • Microchip and/or ID tag your pet: Consider having your veterinarian microchip your pet, and make sure they always wear a collar and ID tag. Newer ID tags with GPS trackers can be purchased, to find your pet’s location.
  • Call the police if your pet was stolen, or if you see that someone else is trying to sell your pet online.

To learn more about scams, go to BBB Scam Tips.

About the Author: