A phony dog selling scheme is targeting victims in St. Louis and around the globe.
Michele Kuester of Pevely, Missouri thought she found a new puppy on a website advertising small breed dogs.
"I looked for local breeders or people with litters for sale, didn't find anything," Kuester said, while trying to locate a Shih Tzu puppy. Earlier this year Kuester clicked on a site billing itself as Ava's Shih Tzu Puppies, a site that's recently been removed from the internet.
After picking out a dog named Marley, Kuester sent $550 via Moneygram to an individual in Texas.
Immediately after sending the payment, Kuester was asked for more money to ship the dog to St. Louis Lambert Airport.
"My options were in the neighborhood of $500, $700, and $900," Kuester recalled.
After Kuester grew suspicious of the additional costs, the individual behind the website stopped communicating altogether.
Marley never arrived, and Kuester never received a refund.
News 4 Investigates reached out to the operators of the website, and asked if Marley was still for sale. The operators of the site answered yes, and also asked for $550 to be sent via Moneygram.
Just like Kuester's experience, News 4 Investigates was given an address in Texas as the base of operations for Ava's Shih Tzu Puppies. Property records indicate the home is privately owned and sits just outside Houston, Texas in suburban Richmond.
According to the Fort Bend County, Texas Sheriff's Office, callers from around the globe have lost money to a business claiming to operate from the same Richmond, Texas address. A spokesperson says they have received calls from Shanghai, Great Britain, Canada, New York, Florida and Nevada just to name a few.
The lead detective believes the people behind the Shih Tzu website could be running up to eight different sites, and dollar losses could top $700,000 in Texas alone.
In early April News 4 Investigates visited the home in Richmond, Texas and met the owner of the house. Steve Chapman describes the situation as a "freaking nightmare."
Chapman says people are knocking on his door looking for dogs, and recently had a visitor drive down from Missouri. He's also concerned for the safety of his family, and added "I'm not always here. Should someone come by that's paid $1,300 that could be dangerous."
Chapman hopes the story will make it clear his home and family have nothing to do with the website selling fake dogs. He also said it's not just potential Shih Tzu owners getting bilked.
"We have people coming by here constantly asking for Shih Tzu's, Dachshunds, all kinds of small breeds," said Chapman.
He has thought about putting signs in the front yard alerting people about the scheme to avoid uninvited visitors. The Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office believes the scheme is actually operating from Nigeria.
Chapman believes the operators obtained his address after he searched online for a puppy a couple years ago.
At the time Chapman provided his address online, but grew suspicious after he was asked to send payment via Moneygram.
News 4 Investigates reached out to the FBI, but received the same response often offered by the FBI when asked about potential criminal investigations.
The agency can't confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into the dog selling matter.
In Texas, Chapman says he encourages anyone looking for a pet to visit their local shelter.