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Scammers pose as Colorado animal shelters, targeting owners of lost pets

Norman and Ethel
Posted at 3:45 PM, May 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-25 17:45:53-04

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — The Castle Rock Police Department and the Dumb Friends League are urging pet owners to be on alert for scammers who are targeting the owners of lost pets, giving them false hope while trying to steal their money.

Lisa Bowers has been missing her English cream golden retrievers Norman and Ethel since July 4th after they got out of their Larkspur home.

"I have hope one day, whether it be tomorrow or 10 years from now, that I'm going to get them back," said Bowers.

She has posted on various online forums meant for owners of lost pets. She assumes that's where the scammers got her contact information.

On Saturday, she received a call. The caller ID showed it was coming from the Dumb Friends League.

"He said, 'Well, ma'am, it is your dog, Norman.' I'm just so ecstatic. I said, 'Okay, I'm going to come get him. I'm going to come get him right now.' He says, 'Well, no, ma'am. You have to wait for the vet to give all the shots,'" Bowers recalled.

The scammer told her that since the veterinarian was a separate entity from the shelter, she would need to pay over the phone using Venmo or Cash App. That's when she knew it was all fake.

"After a few choice words, I hung up on him," said Bowers, "We thought it was Norman. It was like the best feeling in the world. Then all of a sudden, it's just heartbreak all over again. It's not him, and it's just somebody trying to scam you out of money."

The scammer told her that Norman was at the Buddy Center in Castle Rock, so she and her husband headed there just to be sure. When they got there, a police officer was already inside investigating cases from other pet owners that happened that same day. Several families showed up at the Buddy Center after getting the scam calls.

"In these instances, we couldn't figure out what animal they were talking about, how the people were connected, and we really had no record of anything involved in the situation," said Katie Parker, vice president of sheltering for Dumb Friends League.

Parker said since last weekend, she's heard other animal shelters have been spoofed by scammers, too. The Dumb Friends League will never ask for personal information or money over the phone.

"If an animal ends up in our shelter that needs medical care, we are going to provide that care. We're not going to waste time trying to track the owner down get payment," said Parker, who explained the generous donations made to DFL make it possible for them to operate like that.

Bowers wants other pet owners to know about this to help save their money and avoid the heartache. She said she has no intention of removing any online posts to try to bring her lost dogs home.

"Absolutely not. No, I feel in my heart that Norman and Ethel, both of them, are going to come back one day. I hope somebody sees this and knows where they are," she said. "There are really good people in the world that try and help you find your lost pups, your cat or whatever pet you have missing. ​But there's also those people out there that are willing to take advantage of you."

If you've received a call like this, please contact Officer B. Corriea at the Castle Rock Police Department at 303-663-6100.

Castle Rock PD said if a call comes in and appears fishy, even if it's showing up as a legitimate number, you should hang up and call the official number back yourself.