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On Your Side Investigation: Ozarks customers claim they were ripped off when buying dogs on Facebook

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Published: Feb. 27, 2020 at 4:39 PM CST
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You can buy about anything on Facebook these days. A car, clothes, or even a pet. If you are in the market for a puppy, buyer beware. A couple near Lebanon, Mo. is accused of stealing money from pet lovers.

Melissa Hern planned to get her daughter a little Chihuahua for $200. She spotted an ad on Facebook. She contacted the seller. Customers tell On Your Side it's one of the many Facebook accounts used by James Donelson and his wife Jordan Donelson. Melissa talked with Jordan on the phone.

"I talked to her about the dog. How old it was. When it had its shots. Whenever its due to go back for its shots. When they were going to release it at eight weeks. She stated they were in the Branson area," said Hern.

Convenient because Melissa works in Branson West. She paid the $100 deposit.

"I tried to call the phone number and it said it was no longer in service," said Hern.

Melissa told her bank and the transfer was stopped. James Johnson wasn't so lucky. He bought a German Shepherd puppy from Jordan Donelson.

"We met in a parking lot. She said it was AKC registered. I gave her $450 cash. Took the dog home. Immediately after I left, she blocked me on Facebook," said Johnson.

The puppy was sick.

"I spent everything I could to get it. Two weeks later it died. Our husky got parvo. We got it saved," he said.

He sued Donelson. A judge ordered her to pay him $840. She hasn't paid up.

James and Melissa shared their experiences online. They quickly found people with similar stories and came across warnings like this one. One post says Jordan Donelson is a pet flipper. It also claims she 'steals photos online' to advertise and get a deposit. Customers tell On Your Side the couple uses multiple Facebook accounts with different names.

Then there's Rachel Johnson in Carthage (no relation to James Johnson).

"I trusted her. I never thought in one hundred years someone could do something like this," she said.

Rachel decided to rehome her registered Boston Terrier, Aslan.

"I thought he needs to go somewhere where he can run around with other dogs. When I put my ad on Facebook that's what I said," exclaimed Johnson.

Jordan Donelson texted Rachel.

"She kept saying, 'he's going to have two Great Danes and acreage and a place to play'. That's what I was so excited about. That's what he needed," she said.

Rachel packed up Aslan. Drove to Lebanon and met James Donelson. He gave her $25. She never got another text.

"All of a sudden I got sick to my stomach and I was like oh no. What just happened?" she said.

Rachel filed a complaint to the Missouri Attorney General. The attorney general's office attempted to contact Jordan Donelson using a St. Louis address, but the letter was returned.

"It's heartbreaking. It's frustrating. I would love to know where he is. Just to know that he's okay," she said.

Using court documents, On Your Side was able to connect the couple to a home in Lebanon. The house appeared to be empty. Again, using court records, we tried a different address. It took us to a trailer park near Bennett Spring. A neighbor says they live there. No one came to the door.

Ashley Reynolds messaged four Donelson Facebook accounts. Customers gave On Your Side three phone numbers to try. Those are disconnected.

There are no criminal charges.

Here are some tips when buying a dog online:

1. Ask for multiple pictures of the pet, posing with recent items (such as newspaper) to make sure the pet is real.

2. Ask for a phone number for the person selling the pet and veterinary clinic the pet has been to. If the seller won't give numbers, or if the phone number is not in the USA, it is probably a scam. If they do give numbers, call and ask questions.

3. If the seller says they are in a particular state, but asks you to send money elsewhere, especially another country, it is probably a scam.

4. Avoid buying from a seller/breeder not located in the US.

5. Ask for breeder information. If they will not provide, walk away.

6. Check the communication chain. If the email has poor grammar, it is probably a scam, especially if the seller will not talk on the phone.

7. Do research on the price of the dog or animal. Think twice if selling a purebred for free or a low price. If a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

8. Well known breeders will not sell on Craigslist's.

9. Research the seller extensively.

10. Before you buy, meet the seller and dog in person. See their place of business. If they will not let you come to their place of business, that is a red flag.

11. Obtain all of the vet papers and obtain all documentation for proof of purchase.

12. Don't wire or send prepaid cards. A professional breeder won't ask you to wire them money and then ship their valuable puppy off to someone they have never met.

13. If the seller refuses refunds, that's another red flag. Legitimate breeders will offer to help if a problem arises, that can mean taking the dog back or finding a new home.