A Gardnerville woman is upset that she not only lost her dog, but someone took advantage of her grief and swindled her out of more than $300.
Venice Reeder, 63, was distraught when her 9-year-old Pomeranian, Tuffy, disappeared from her yard on July 16. She posted fliers and placed a "lost dog" ad in the newspaper, offering a reward for Tuffy's safe return.
"I live out in the country and the dog is always in the yard. It was that Sunday when we had the full moon and it was cloudy and nice and cool. I didn't think he would go far. He has a heart condition and can't even walk very far," Reeder said.
On July 21, Reeder received a collect call from an unidentified man from Phoenix, Ariz. He said his boss had picked up Reeder's dog when their construction company had been in town. Tuffy ended up back in Phoenix with the construction crew.
"He talked so fast. But he was so real," Reeder said. "He said, 'My boss got drunk and was driving out through the country and saw the dog and threw a blanket over him to catch him. The next thing we knew, he was there when we were back in Phoenix.' I should have thought right there that he wouldn't have stayed under a blanket all the way to Phoenix. But I truly believed him. He said, 'My wife, we just had a baby, she insisted I call you,'" Reeder recalled.
The man told Reeder the dog was annoying the crew and would only come to the older woman who worked with them. He said he wanted to return the dog, but needed money to put the dog on a commercial airline flight.
He told Reeder if she would send him the money via Western Union, he would make the arrangements. The caller declined the reward and said he only wanted to get Tuffy home.
He refused to give Reeder a name other than "Kevin" for the money and refused to give her a telephone number, insisting on calling her collect six times during the evening to make the arrangements. He said he was afraid he would lose his job because his boss would be angry if he found out.
Reeder agreed to send $325 to Western Union in Phoenix. The caller also suggested a "test question" so that nobody else could claim the money. The test question was "Who is returning?" And the answer was "Tuffy."
Reeder sent the money on July 21 and it was picked up the same day. Reeder never heard from the man again and when she called the Reno airport, she was told a similar case had been reported to the Placer County Sheriff's Department, in which the suspect's name was also Kevin.
Reeder, who said she is a retired fraud investigator, feels like she should have known she was being swindled and wants to prevent this from happening to other people.
"He hooked my emotions. I'd been dying for weeks. This dog sleeps with me and follows me around. But (Kevin) talked so fast, and that was confusing," she said.
Reeder said a neighbor told her she saw a man in a van writing down the information on one of Reeder's "lost dog" fliers put up near her home.
"When they read that Tuffy has missing teeth and a heart problem, they figured, here's a sucker," Reeder said. "(Kevin) kept saying, 'I guarantee you're going to get your dog back.' Then I didn't hear back. I didn't sleep all night. Then I called the airport. I just really felt awful. I was just starting to get over the major depression and then it started all over. Then I got mad. I want to warn people. I talked to the police and the Attorney General's Office and I guess there have been other cases throughout the state."
Deputy Attorney General Tracy Brierly of the Las Vegas office said her office has been investigating a growing number of similar pet scams.
She said they suggest not putting a complete description on lost pet fliers or ads so owners can question callers more thoroughly. She also said owners should always pay for flight costs or veterinary costs themselves instead of sending money to callers claiming these costs.
"Because a legitimate person wouldn't have any problem with that," Brierly said.
Reeder said the man who called told her the airline wouldn't allow her to call and make the arrangements over the phone with her credit card, but the airlines told her they do allow that.
"My friend said they saw a warning about things like this on TV in Las Vegas. I'm just sick and very angry that someone would do that," she said.