Local dog owners target of sophisticated scam

County auditors in the Miami Valley and across Ohio are warning residents about a fraudulent website set up by international thieves to steal dog owners’ identities.

Officials became aware of the website in early December, when dog license renewal season started. It’s designed to look like an official website where dog owners can purchase and renew their dog licenses, Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith said. About 25,000 Montgomery County dog owners purchased their pets’ licenses online last year, he said.

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The intent of the fake site is to steal your identity and credit card information, Keith said, adding that international scammers are suspected of created the site. Two Montgomery County residents who used the site have been scammed. The county prosecutor was alerted, he said, and federal law enforcement officials have taken up the case.

Keith and Montgomery Animal Resource Center Director Bob Gruhl encouraged pet owners to continue making their purchases online. However, they should make sure they use the county's website as opposed to the fraudulent site, Keith said. The correct site is: https://www.mcohio.org/dogs/.

Dog owners also can buy or renew licenses in person or through the mail. Dog licenses are on sale in Montgomery County until Jan. 31, 2020. Ohio law requires that all dogs more than three months old be licensed each year.

“We know (online purchase) is something that people want to take advantage of, and now here we have criminals trying to take advantage of them and trying to get them to use this website so they can steal their money and their information,” Keith said. “Make no mistake about it, this (fake website) is an identity theft scam, and the people who are doing this are committing a crime.”

In addition to asking for credit card information, the website directs dog owners to enter their birth dates and similar information. The county’s website does not ask for a person’s birth date, Keith said.

“There’s no reason to ask for the dog owner’s birthday, unless you are just trying to scam someone and use the information in some criminal fashion,” he said. “We want to make sure our pet owners throughout the community are aware of this, and they take precaution.”

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The website developers purchased an ad on Google, so when a dog owner searched for renewing a pet’s license, Keith said the fake website showed up at the top of the results. After two Montgomery County residents were scammed, Keith said the county contacted Google, which removed the ads.

Pet owners shouldn’t be discouraged from registering their dogs, though, Gruhl said. It’s important because last year ARC returned about 1,000 pets to their owners because the animals were legally licensed, he said.

“Take the legitimate steps, do the right thing and license your animal,” Gruhl said. “It’s going to help protect you, the community and everybody else involved.”

The money from dog license sales goes to the Animal Resource Center. The fake site could affect ARC’s revenue and its ability to provide services, Gruhl said.

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The Franklin County auditor was the the first to alert other auditors across the state about the fake website, Preble County Auditor Lavon Wright said. With the exception of Montgomery County, no other auditor in the Miami Valley has reported to the group of auditors that their residents have been victimized by the fake website, she said, adding that several others across the state have.

The Dayton Daily News contacted several county auditors in the region, including Warren, Butler, Clark and Mercer counties, and they confirmed that they’ve not gotten any reports of people being scammed by the fake website.

There’s been reports of similar websites in New York, Pennsylvania and California, Keith said.

Those who believe they may have been scammed should contact their financial institutions to take protective measures, and file a complaint at FTC.gov.

How to make sure you don’t get scammed

•Buy your dog license on the Montgomery County Auditor's website at https://www.mcohio.org/dogs/

• Call the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office at 937-225-4314 during normal business hours to confirm if a dog license has been purchased from the correct website.

• Visit a Montgomery County Auditor’s Office mobile dog licensing outpost at 4-7 p.m. today, Dec. 17, at the Madden Hills Library

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