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U.S. News

U.S. announces charges in COVID-19 'puppy scam'

(Reuters) - A Cameroon man has been charged by the U.S. government with exploiting the coronavirus pandemic by defrauding people seeking companionship into buying puppies online that were never delivered, the Department of Justice said on Monday.

Desmond Fodje Bobga, 27, was arrested last Thursday in Cluj, Romania, where he was attending Babeș-Bolyai University, according to the office of U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh.

Prosecutors said the defendant and unnamed accomplices started their online "puppy scam" as early as June 2018 using websites such as the now-deleted (www.lovelyhappypuppy.com lovelyhappypuppy.com).

The perpetrators allegedly posed as a delivery company that demanded extra payments because the animals would be delivered late, and demanded even more money after the pandemic began by claiming the animals had been exposed to COVID-19.

Prosecutors also said fake documents were used, including a “Refundable Crate and Vaccine Guarantee Document” supposedly issued by the U.S. Supreme Court and bearing its seal.

One victim, from New Brighton, Pennsylvania, allegedly lost $9,100 in March trying to buy her mother a mini dachshund named Pansy that had allegedly been exposed to COVID-19 during shipment through an entity called Pets Fly America.

Prosecutors said no dog arrived, and the victim lost $8,500 over 11 days from seven wire transfers to Romania and $600 in Walmart gift cards.

“The dog adoption market can be a breeding ground for catfish schemes,” Scott Brady, the U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh, said in a statement. “Fodje Bogda and his co-conspirators exploited a national pandemic -- and the social isolation it engendered -- to exploit victims with photos of cute puppies and to bilk extra costs under the pretense of COVID.”

A lawyer for Fodje Bobga could not immediately be identified. Romania and the United States have an extradition treaty.

The defendant was charged with wire fraud and conspiracy, which carry maximum 20-year prison terms, as well as forging the Supreme Court seal and aggravated identity theft.

The case is U.S. v. Fodje Bobga, U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, No. 20-mj-01365.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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