Better Business Bureau Issues Warning about Buying Puppies Online

By Truong Phuoc Khánh
Mercury News

Cynthia Alvarez's Christmas present for her husband was supposed to be cute, cuddly, and awaiting pick-up at the airport on Dec. 25.

The English Bulldog puppy, named ``Borman,'' never made it. Alvarez, a 22-year-old novice at buying things over the Internet, is $1,600 poorer and a bit wiser about sending money to businesses that list neither address nor telephone number on their Web sites.

And the Silicon Valley Better Business Bureau is warning consumers not to make the same mistake.

``I felt robbed,'' said Alvarez, a customer service worker from San Jose. ``I was really disappointed with myself, first of all, for sending him all this money.''

``Him'' would be Dr. Don Anderson, whose Web site -- with an assortment of syntax and spelling errors -- describes him as the ``owner, breeder, and developer of English Bulldogs and French Bulldogs.'' The bureau ``suspects Dr. Anderson is a fictitious person,'' according to its press release.

It said Anderson is also behind Web sites and and advertises on free online classified ad Web sites.

``Every Better Business Bureau across the country can tell you a story about something like this happening,'' said Zach Vander Meeden, a spokesman with the Silicon Valley bureau.

Victims are lured to Web sites offering rare dog breeds at affordable prices. Photos and text are often stolen from sites of legitimate breeders.

Alvarez ordered the puppy on Dec. 20 and received an e-mail from Anderson instructing her to wire $1,000 via Moneygram to Ashtabula, Ohio. She did. Then Anderson told her he needed money for a shipping crate and food. So she wired him another $350. Then there was the unexpected $350 for paperwork required by the airline.

At this, Alvarez balked. But . . .

``I really wanted the puppy,'' she said, ``and this was the last week of Christmas.''

Anderson told her he'd pitch in $100; she sent him $250.

She hasn't heard from him since.

``I'm a little mad at myself,'' Alvarez said, ``$1,600 total down the drain.''

Anderson did not respond to an e-mail sent on Thursday seeking comment on the case, and no phone number for him could be located.

Alvarez, like thousands of other alleged victims of Internet schemes, never filed a police report. But she did contact the Better Business Bureau of Cleveland, which investigated and found that other websites by Anderson all were registered with a ``proxy'' service that allowed the operator's name and details to be kept confidential.

``We don't even believe he's a real person,'' said Sue McConnell, public relations director for the Cleveland bureau, which notified its sister office in San Jose.

The Business Bureau recommends consumers check an online vendor'sreputation before buying anything; look for addresses and telephone numbers; and never wire money -- instead, use a credit card or a reputable escrow service, such as PayPal.

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