Scam artists have no qualms about tugging on our heartstrings, and that includes when we’re getting a fluffy kitten or playful “quarantine” puppy to keep us company as we hunker down at home through the pandemic.
That has led to a huge increase this year in reports about fraudulent online pet sales, according to the Better Business Bureau of Chicago.
The agency said this week that it’s tracked 3,969 reports of pet scams through September this year, with more than $2.8 million in losses for the victims. That compares to 3,448 reports and $1.7 million in losses in all of 2018 and 2019 combined.
“It’s so sad that such rude and dishonest people are out there taking advantage of innocent, trusting people,” a downstate Centralia woman told BBB after she lost $750 in April trying to buy a corgi puppy online.
Kristen Funk, executive director of the Naperville Area Humane Society, said she understands how the heightened desire for companionship and shortage of available pets leads some people to online sellers.
But she recommends would-be pet owners always see the animal before they buy.
“Always ask to see the (animal’s) parents,” she added.
In her experience, reputable breeders don’t use online advertisements — including Craigslist or what she called “fluffy websites” — nor do they ship pets, or arrange to meet you in a store parking lot for an exchange.
As for the surging demand for pets, it’s real. Funk said her shelter has adopted out 50 more dogs already this year than in all of 2019.
Tips for buying
If you’ve got you heart set on a new pet under the tree on Christman morning, the BBB has some tips:
• See the pet in person before paying. If you can’t meet it in person, at least ask to see it on a video call. Scammers aren’t likely to comply with this request, the BBB says.
• Do a reverse-image search online of the photo of the pet. Also, copy a distinctive phrase from the description and then paste that into a search window, to see if it pops up elsewhere.
• Do research on what is considered a fair price for the breed you want. If a purebred animal is offered well below its usual cost, that’s another red flag.
For those who’ve been scammed, the average loss is $1,019, and Yorkshire terriers and French bulldogs seem to be the most popular breeds involved, according to the BBB. But it has also seen an uptick in fraudulent kitten and parrot sales.
Court upholds video evidence
In October 2013, Mundelein police obtained a search warrant for the phone of their prime suspect in the abduction and sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl. They hoped to find GPS data that showed his whereabouts that day. What they found was far more incriminating: video of the assault.
Now a state appellate court has upheld the legality of that search, ruling unanimously that police had probable cause to take the phone and search its files.
Jose Reyes, left, was sentenced in 2016 to 120 years in prison for the abduction and sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl in Mundelein. An appellate court upheld the conviction late last month, rejecting arguments that police unlawfully obtained key evidence.
– Stacey Wescott/Pool/Chicago Tribune
Those files — including the video — helped persuade a Lake County judge to find Jose Reyes, 35, guilty in 2016 of aggravated kidnapping, predatory criminal sexual assault and two counts of production of child pornography. The judge later sentenced the Chicago man to 120 years in prison.
Prosecutors at trial said Reyes took the girl from outside her family’s Mundelein apartment, molested her in his car and then dropped her off in a nearby parking lot. Police arrested him four days later at his Libertyville workplace after identifying his car through surveillance video taken where he left the girl.
In his appeal, Reyes argued that the search warrant for his phone should never have been issued because police at the time had no evidence linking it to a crime. And once police got the phone, he argued, they shouldn’t have been able to search its video files because the warrant sought only GPS information.
The appellate court shot down both claims, ruling that because the phone was found in Reyes’ car and he admitted to police he kept it with him most of the time, probable cause existed.
The court also ruled that the videos were admissible because police found them “in plain view” on the phone while searching for GPS data.
Reyes is serving his sentence at the medium-security Western Illinois Correctional Center, about 95 miles southwest of Peoria. He’s not eligible for parole until October 2115.
Progress on DNA backlog
State police labs are chipping away at a monthslong backlog of cases awaiting DNA testing, long-awaited progress that should speed the administration of justice across Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Illinois State Police Director Brendan F. Kelly announced Wednesday.
Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said his agency’s forensic labs have made significant progress reducing a monthslong backlog of evidence awaiting DNA testing.
– Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2019
According to state police, the backlog has been reduced by 48% — from 9,289 pending assignments to 4,857 — since March 1, 2019. And the number of cases waiting more than a year for testing is down from 1,329 at the start of 2020 to 186 as of Monday.
“For more than a decade, trends in forensic labs across the country, including in Illinois, have been headed the wrong direction, but because of the hard work and discipline of the Illinois State Police we are finally headed in the right direction in Illinois,” Kelly said in the announcement. “Our progress is real and significant, but no one in the Illinois State Police will be satisfied until all victims can trust that the cause of justice will be advanced and not delayed by forensics.”
ISP officials say the progress is all the more remarkable since it was achieved while as many as six pf their forensic scientists were on loan for more than four months to help with COVID-19 testing.
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