While the pandemic might have brought the rest of the world to a standstill, cybercriminals and threat actors thrived. As always, these predators were quick to exploit the public’s increased reliance on the internet as well as prey on any weaknesses they could find.
In fact, various types of cybercrime flourished during and after the pandemic. Hackers even stooped so low as to target the already overwhelmed healthcare providers.
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Now, a student faces up to 20 years in prison for tugging at people’s heartstrings in a callous attempt at financial gain. Desmond Bobga, a Cameroonian student studying in Romania, was recently caught and extradited for his role in an online scam ring that purported to sell “mini dachshunds” and other puppies to lonely netizens, mostly Americans, only to fleece them out of hundreds to thousands of dollars.
The operation was brought to the attention of the FBI, who eventually identified Mr. Desmond along with some of his cooperators. He was eventually arrested by Romanian authorities in December 2020 and subsequently extradited to the U.S. to face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, forging a seal of the U.S. Supreme Court, and aggravated identity theft.
The puppies were listed on the website lovelyhappypuppy.com which has since been taken down. Most “puppies were listed for around $450 – $600 which would be demanded upfront. In most cases, they would request that the victims make payment via Walmart gift cards, an obvious red flag in hindsight.
However, paying for a “puppy” was only the start of their scam. The COVID-19 pandemic provided plenty of opportunities for Desmond and his co-conspirators to keep milking their victims. After having “bought” a puppy, they would claim additional fees due to “delays in shipping” and other complications due to the ongoing pandemic.
In one particular case, a victim forked out $9,100 for a mini-dachshund named “Pansy.”
The gang especially targeted those who experienced loneliness during that time, which left them particularly vulnerable and in need of a furry companion.
Desmond himself was studying political science at a university in Cluj-Napoca, Romania at the time.
According to FBI Special Agent Mike Nordwall:
“Mr. Bobga preyed on American citizens looking for comfort from a pet during the COVID pandemic. His admission of guilt today will give his victims some solace in knowing someone is being held accountable. This investigation should also be a reminder to everyone to be careful who they’re buying from on the internet.”
Currently, Mr. Desmond’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 8 April, 2020. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
If this case highlights anything, it’s that the public at large must always exercise extra caution and do their due diligence before transacting online. An attack like this can be carried out with relatively little technical skill or upfront investment from threat actors. In fact, anyone today can build and launch a website purporting to sell anything in a matter of no-time.
Another huge red flag is if an online vendor asks you to make a payment using non-conventional methods. Credit cards have built-in fraud detection capabilities and owners can, in many cases, get some or all of their money back without legal or law enforcement getting involved.
However, if you pay using cash or gift cards, it’s unlikely you’ll get your money back, even if the case makes it to court.
While there’s no magic formula to identify and avoid these types of low-sophistication scams, you should always operate from a position of zero trust when engaging with an unknown entity or business online.
Cameroonian Operator Charged in Fraudulent Online “Puppy Scam” that Exploited the COVID-19 Pandemic