Photos of South Florida woman’s dogs being used for pet scam on Craigslist

(WSVN) - Imagine having dogs so cute that they have their own Instagram following! Well, one woman’s precious pup pictures on social media have caused her grief. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek has the story in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Just look at those little faces!

These two dogs, named Bikini and Buoy, have quite the following on Instagram.

Melissa Avolio, French bulldog lover: “They actually have over 70,000 followers. People from all over the world that just adore them.”

Melissa Avolio owns Java Cat & Dog Spa in Fort Lauderdale. She also owns and breeds the expensive French bulldogs.

Melissa Avolio: “Bikini was my first. Beta and her sister, Peppa, are litter mates from Bikini’s first litter.”

But once their photos went up, a scammer saw an opportunity to make easy money.

Melissa Avolio: “Somebody reached out to me through Instagram. They told me somebody was selling my puppies on Craigslist.”

Shocked, Melissa went online and found her pups’ pictures on Craigslist in Boston, Austin and Dallas.

Melissa Avolio: “These are the photos that they’re using. This is Beta in my kitchen. That’s Beta and her sister, Peppa. I can tell it’s the same person every time just because they have a little questionnaire at the end and just by the way the questions are written.”

The fake owner spins a tale about moving, saying they “can’t keep the cuties with us anymore. We’re willing to give you these pups if you can promise us to never sell them because they have been like kids to us.”

They provide paperwork asking $440 dollars in shipping costs.

A woman in Massachusetts agreed to take the puppies and was so excited she posted their pictures on Facebook asking for help naming them.

Melissa Avolio: “I went on Messenger and contacted her and told her, ‘Don’t send any money. This is a scam.’ It broke her heart. She really had her heart set. She really thought she was bringing home two babies.”

In this case, Melissa was able to stop the woman from sending money to the fake transport company, but she’s afraid others have not been so lucky.

Cinthya Lavin, Better Business Bureau: “Pet scams are very common.”

Cinthya Lavin of the Better Business Bureau says French bulldogs are the most popular breed to sell online, but she cautions, “Don’t get fooled by the puppy dog eyes.”

Cinthya Lavin: “It doesn’t matter what story is out there regarding re-homing dogs, or they need a better home, just don’t send any money via wire to a person that you don’t know, because you’re not going to be able to get that money back.”

7News reached out to craigslist. They didn’t respond, but the company does have warnings on their website about various scams.

Melissa Avolio: “You can report it to Craigslist, and they’ll take it down, but in the end, it’s an internet crime. The police can’t do anything because the cities they are posting in aren’t even the cities that they are living in. They’ll post in Boston but say they live in Virginia.”

Melissa now watermarks her dogs’ puppy pictures to make it more difficult for people to use them without permission, and she posts warnings hoping French bulldog lovers will think twice about looking for puppies online.

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