RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More people stuck at home in the pandemic are wanting pets and the scammers are preying on it. A Maryland woman says a man claiming to be a Richmond breeder conned her out of her cash and never returned on his promise to provide a cat. Cute kitties are the perfect bait for an online scam, and Michelle Gotis has learned the hard way..
“We really led with our emotions and our heart. We really wanted these kittens,” said Gotis. The Maryland school teacher wanted her children to have the experience of raising Ragdoll kittens.
The Ragdoll cat breed has blue eyes and is known for its docile and affectionate temperament.
Gotis and her kids have been at home in the pandemic and thought now was the time for a kitten. She began her pet search online. She came across ragdollkittencattery.com. Unlike other sites, it had no waiting list and the breeder texted her right away. “He had kittens available right away, we got excited, great price,” said Gotis.
The man claiming to be Darryl Johnson quoted her $1100 for two kittens with $500 down. He requested the money be sent through a money transfer app. He told her she could pick up her pets in Richmond. Gotis bought in and sent $500 two weeks ago.
“Adopting these animals you’re kind of working on blind faith a little bit,” she admitted.
When Johnson backed out of the Richmond meet up and offered to ship the cats FedEx for an extra fee, she suspected it was a scam. When she looked up the Richmond address the so-called breeder gave her, she found it was a home up for sale.
8News went to check it out and found no sign of any cats. We then called the listing agent. The realtor told us, “The homeowners were quite concerned and knew nothing about it. They don’t know any Mr. Johnson that has anything to do with any cats.”
So we called Johnson to ask him about it. We identified ourselves and he told us, “We do sell kittens.” We asked why would he provide the address for a home that is for sale and that he has no connection to. He told us, “I don’t meet people at my address Madam, I meet people at a park?”
We asked if that was the case then why not just meet at a public park? He said, “I feel like they were just going to play a game and I was going to play mine.”
We reminded the man that the customer has paid him. There was a silence. None of the responses were adding up.
Gotis also realized she may been catfished in her quest for cats when she google searched one of the photos on the ragdoll cattery wesbite. The photo posted claimed to be that of Johnson’s family. It turns out, it was lifted from another breeders’ site.
“That’s my photo,” said Robin Ryman. Ryman owns fairyfriendsragdolls.com. She is a registered breeder located in Northern Virginia. She tells us the photo with her and her five kids was stolen. “I just thought how low can you go,” said Ryman. Robin says these types are scams hurt her and other legitimate breeders. She said, “It is very irritating because I am an honest person.”
8News asked Johnson about that too. He told us, “We got two websites madam.” We asked him what the name of the other website was. He couldn’t tell us.
8News did some more digging. While the website claims to be registered with TICA, The International Cat Association and Cat Fancier’s Association and displays both association’s logo both groups they told us they don’t have a cattery registered with that name nor is a Darryl Johnson affiliated with either of them. CFA told us:
“a. We have reviewed the web site https://ragdollkittencattery.com/available-kittens/. They do use the CFA name and logo but there is no CFA cattery name mentioned.
b. We have reviewed our records and can find no CFA cattery owned by Darryl Johnson.
c. We have reviewed our records and can find no registrations or other transactions with CFA by Darryl Johnson.
d. The phone number and e-mail address you obtained for Darryl Johnson are not in our directory.
e. We compared the information you provided in your message against other breeders in the area, and other Ragdoll breeders, and found nothing to indicate that Darryl Johnson has any CFA connection.”
“My first reaction is shame on my end because I could have been a more savvy consumer. My other reaction is disgust, to prey on families that are just looking for pets,” she asked. Gotis said realizes now all the research she did on the backend, she should have done on the frontend.
Barry N Moore, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia wasn’t surprised by any of what we found. He said “They’re professional criminals.” Moore told us the BBB has seen a spike in pet-related scams during the pandemic. “Scammers are out there and they are ripping people off left and right with these pets,” said Moore. He urges people to do their research. “Go to those professional sites. See the owner, see the pet,” advised Moore.
Looking back Gotis admits that should have been a red flag. “Every time I ask for pictures of the kittens together, he just can’t produce them,” she said.
“You really need to hold that animal,” said Moore.
We gave Johnson one more chance. We called him again. We then asked outright if this was a scam, he hung up. “It is shameful what he is doing. I just don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” said Gotis.
Gotis has filed a complaint with police, the FBI and the BBB. She’s also reached out to her bank but doesn’t know if she’ll ever get her money back. TICA and the Cat Fancier’s Association tell us they are working with their lawyers to have their logos removed from this site.
Some other tips so you don’t get scammed, the BBB says be wary of sites with poor grammar.
Ryman advises you avoid breeders who won’t talk to you on the phone. She also suggests you ask for a Facetime call- so you can see the breeder and that the cats are real. Ryman tells us she does that with customers all the time. The BBB also suggests you pay with a credit card. You have more options for disputing a charge with a credit than a money transfer app. The BBB also encourage you to report a scam others don’t fall victim. You can check to see if something is a scam here using the BBB’s scamtracker.
You can also find more tips for choosing a breeder and scam warnings here: https://tica.org/breeds/find-a-cat/breeder-listings
Meanwhile, several local shelters and rescues in the encourage those looking for the pet to consider adopting. They tell us there are hundreds of kittens in need of homes.