Scam artist takes advantage of holiday shopperDespite taking precautions, a Jamestown family fell victim to an online scam while attempting to purchase a Christmas puppy. Jamestown resident Marlene Partlow researched the seller’s business, used PayPal rather than wiring money and even checked the social media presence of the seller before clicked the “Send Payment” button.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Despite taking precautions, a Jamestown family fell victim to an online scam while attempting to purchase a Christmas puppy.
Jamestown resident Marlene Partlow researched the seller’s business, used PayPal rather than wiring money and even checked the social media presence of the seller before clicked the “Send Payment” button.
None of it was enough, though, and Partlow and her family remain puppy-less, and they may not get their $350 back, either.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through this,” she said, explaining why she decided to speak out publicly about what happened. “… if this would help one person from getting ripped off, it would make me feel better.”
The events leading up to the puppy problem began on Nov. 18, when Partlow and two of her children discussed buying a teacup Chihuahua for Christmas.
Having successfully purchased items online since 2001 without any problems, Partlow searched online for “teacup Chihuahua” and started sifting through ads for the tiny pups, many so small they can actually fit in a teacup.
She found two ads she liked and responded to both of them. The ad she liked best featured a dog with Rottweiler-type coloring. A picture shows the puppy sitting up in a white coffee cup, paws resting on its rim.
Partlow called the phone number of the Chihuahua dealer, who went by the name Thalia Hernandez. Hernandez explained the details of the sale and answered questions about the dog and the transaction, which was to be managed via PayPal, a third-party online payment system.
After the phone conversation, Partlow did some more research into Hernandez and her operation, called Star Poms at the time. Partlow found ads on Craigslist and eBay, as well a business website and Facebook account for Hernandez.
She even had a verified PayPal account, meaning that a real-life bank account was probably linked to her PayPal account.
It all seemed legitimate to Partlow, so the two women worked out the logistics of getting one tiny puppy from California, where Hernandez claimed she lived, to North Dakota.
One seemingly minor occurrence did trip some alarm bells for Partlow. When the women were arranging for payment, Hernandez claimed she was having trouble with the PayPal site and said Partlow should use Western Union Company’s money transfer service instead.
But Partlow refused to do it, and suddenly Hernandez was able to get PayPal to work again, so the deal was back on. Hernandez told Partlow exactly what documents to bring and where she could expect her family’s new dog.
But when Partlow drove to Hector International Airport in Fargo to pick up her family’s new pet at 11 a.m. on a Friday, the Chihuahua wasn’t there.
In fact, airport employees said no animals had come into the airport for two days, and though there was one due to arrive the next day, it was 60 pounds — many times the size of a breed famous for fitting comfortably into celebrity purses.
“I immediately just started crying,” Partlow recalled.
As soon as she left the airport, she started calling Hernandez, trying to find out if something had simply gone wrong.
Within half an hour, the phone number was disconnected.
Then Partlow tried to reach Hernandez through Facebook.
The page was taken down.
“By this point, I’m just angry that this happened,” Partlow recalled.
As the realization that the whole thing had been a scam began to sink in, Partlow returned to the Internet to see if she could track down Hernandez.
Instead, she found more ads featuring identical pictures of the same dogs, with a different business name, a new website and brand new contact information. There they were — pictures of the same Chihuahuas, German shepherds and pit bulls that Hernandez had been “selling” before.
Partlow filed a complaint on PayPal to get her money back, but that may not happen, if the account for “Hernandez” doesn’t have money left in it anymore. Partlow reported all of the scam ads at multiple sites, hoping to protect other people from being defrauded.
She received a reply from eBay classifieds letting her know the complaint was being investigated, but that she wouldn’t be told the results of the investigation.
Partlow has also called and left a message with local law enforcement officials, as well as those in California where “Hernandez” claimed to live.
“It’s unbelievable that there are people like that in this world,” Partlow said. “I guess we’re naïve living here — you think everybody’s good, and they’re not.”
She said her 13-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son were surprised and disappointed about the incident.
“How could you be so cruel?” Partlow wondered. “How could you take away somebody’s gift to kids and family like that?”
The family still hopes to get a dog, but if the money isn’t returned it won’t be in the budget for a while.
Partlow has already checked the references of the other seller.
“You do get kind of gun shy,” she said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at