PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A veteran with disabilities called WPTV after allegedly losing hundreds of dollars when she tried to purchase a new service dog online through a fake breeder.
"She helps me keep going," Jennifer Miller said while holding her service dog, Jen Jen.
Miller told WPTV she is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. She served four years in Iraq. She came home in 2013 after a roadside bomb caused a serious concussion.
"I struggle with the PTSD very badly," Miller said.
She said that's why she relies on Jen Jen to help her through the day.
"If an aisle is closed off (and) there's too many people in there, she'll come to a stop. She lets me know, basically, there's too many people, so I can turn around and go in the opposite direction," Miller said.
However, Jen Jen is 16 years old and has some serious health issues.
Knowing that the process of training a service dog will take time, Miller recently started searching for Jen Jen's eventual successor.
"I started looking on the internet for schnauzers and it popped up on the internet," she said. "It was the first thing that popped up on the internet."
It was a breeder in Pennsylvania that allegedly ships dogs all over the country.
Miller said she chose a puppy she liked and sent the alleged breeders pictures of gift cards, totaling $2,800.
She said the gift cards were immediately cashed.
"The dog got to the airport in Pennsylvania and then I got an email from Pet Express saying they could not ship the dog, because they wanted $1,000 for life insurance on the dog," Miller said.
WPTV called and emailed the alleged breeder but never received a response.
After calling WPTV, Miller reported her case to Pittsburgh police and showed WPTV her emails to and from detectives.
WPTV contacted the Pittsburgh Police Department to see if there were any other fraud cases related to the online breeder but never heard back.
"You know, this is widespread," Ian Marlow, cybersecurity expert and founder of FitechGelb, said. "They're very savvy, these people."
Marlow, who is based in Boca Raton, told WPTV that any time a seller asks for payment through gift cards, it's a major red flag.
"This is a very common thing. It's not age-specific. It happens to teenagers. It happens to older people," Marlow said. "It happens to anybody at any age in between. We have this sense and desire of this instant gratification and this online trust."
For Miller, it's a lesson learned. She said she won't be so easy to trust next time.
"It hurts," she said.
Miller is now looking for a Florida breeder that she can meet in person before the sale.
"Don't send gift cards," Miller warned. "If people ask you to send money for a puppy, make sure you get a name, an address and phone number."
For those who are looking to find a service dog, Veteran's Affairs has information here.