PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg police have issued a public service announcement warning people to be vigilant online after scammers were discovered impersonating the city animal shelter on Facebook.
The scammers behind the “Help the Petersburg Animals” page have taken hundreds of dollars from their victims. The page’s operators post pictures of animals that they say are up for adoption. Then, when a visitor pays the fee to adopt an animal, the scammer simply takes the money without giving the victim the animal they paid for.
8News spoke with a woman who said she fell victim to this scam.
“The page seemed absolutely legit,” Samantha Casey said.
Casey and her family lost their dog back in February and did not plan to get another dog. However, she was scrolling through Facebook one day and came across the fake pet adoption page, “Help the Petersburg Animals,” where she saw a few dogs that caught her attention. She then noticed something strange.
“There was a French bulldog and there was also an English bulldog. I talked to my husband, he was like, ‘It seems legit.’ But there was something at the bottom that stated in order to see these dogs you have to pay a deposit of $250,” Casey said.
Casey sent the deposit fee to the page’s operators. She never got to meet the dogs.
Police said there have been other victims of this scam.
Animal rights activist Jill Navary said she fell victim, too. The fake adoption page had originally been a page she set up and managed to help others adopt dogs from Petersburg Animal Care & Control. However, she told 8News that her page was hacked after scammers emailed her pretending to be from the popular pet adoption website Petfinder.
“I got an email from Petfinder — which I now know was fake — saying I needed to link my Facebook to my Petfinder account,” Navary said.
From there, the scammers gained access to multiple pages run by Navary: “Friends of Henrico County VA Animal Control,” “Help the Petersburg Animals” and “Bully Rescue & Advocacy Group.” Navary’s pages were all taken over by the scammers. One of the pages now has close to 10,000 followers.
When asked about whether she has gone to the police about the scammers, Navary said, “I don’t know if they would even care if I walked into a police station and said I was hacked on Facebook.”
Navary said she is now locked out of her own pages. The pages’ locators now indicate that they are managed by accounts in Nigeria and Maryland. Navary has since created a new pet adoption page, but it’s not nearly as popular as her previous ones.
As for the money that people have lost due to the scam, Navary said she feels horrible for being unable to help.
“I haven’t heard of anyone sending anything through the donate button. Everyone has followed their directions and sent it through Zelle. I’m sorry, I feel horrible,” she said.
Navary said she reported the scam to Facebook and is still waiting for them to shut down the pages. Police are asking anyone with information to contact Crime Solvers at 804-861-1212, or submit a web tip.