Puppy scammers steal $40k from Tasmanians during COVID-19

Adele Harding has wanted a puppy for a long time.

So when the breeder she was on the waitlist for jacked up the price, she turned online, scouring sites such as Gumtree and Trading Post.

Ms Harding, who lives on Hobart’s eastern shore, eventually found a man in Victoria who was selling cavoodle puppies.

“I chose Victoria because I had family and friends there and I was getting them to go and handover the money,” she said.

“Then corona hit and lockdown hit and it was too far for my family to go and so I panicked.”

She was only too aware of puppy scams and so began to research the breeder “furiously”.

“We internet-stalked the guy, [he] sent us his driver’s licence, which was a heavy vehicle licence. I then Google-earthed his house and saw trucks in his driveway.”

She found other photos of him online so she “knew that he was who he said he was” but she did not know if he had any puppies.

“[I would] get the photos he sent me [of the puppies] and put them into Google to make sure that they weren’t generic images. They never were,” she said.

Eddie and Lilah Harding lavish attention on new family member Huxley.(ABC News: Lucy MacDonald)

Finally, before she paid her full deposit she had to send him a puppy crate, but she added some extra items to make sure it was not a scam.

“So I put in the puppy crate a blanket and a teething ring. I didn’t tell him,” she said. 

“The day before the puppy was meant to fly out [the crate] came, he rang me and said it had arrived. 

“Then I paid the money and that night he was taking selfies of him and the puppy.”

This story has a happy ending.

The cavoodle puppy, now named Huxley, arrived on Wednesday, much to the joy of her two children Eddie and Lilah.

But not all Tasmanians have been so lucky.

Travel restrictions a red light for scams, police warn

Tasmanian police said they have seen a 50 per cent rise in puppy scams this year, with cavoodles one of the most common breeds involved in scams.

So far 12 Tasmanians have fallen victim to such scams, losing a total of more than $40,000 — they are the cases police know about.

Man holds a golden retriever puppy
Buddy the four-month old golden retriever was bought from a local breeder during the pandemic.(Supplied: Allie Costin)

Detective Sergeant Paul Turner said puppy scams generally start online.

“Buying a puppy is a very emotional thing for a lot of people,” he said.

“COVID has meant that people are at home for longer periods and the restrictions that are in place have meant that people have commenced buying these types of items online.”

He said it was important that people thoroughly research the breeder before sending them any money.

“Do a Google search on the exact wording of the ad and that will often identify that it is a scam,” he said.

“Look for warnings signs such as breeders that say they can send you a puppy from overseas in a matter of weeks when that’s just simply not possible with quarantine restrictions.

He also said people should be cautious when asked to pay via money transfer services.

As for Adele, all the stress and worry has been worth it.

“She’s gorgeous. [The kids are] ecstatic. They feel like it’s just a dream,” she said.

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Mitch Asser went in search of something greater in life and he found it — in a $40k van touring Australia’s east coast

Mitch Asser bought his first house at 19 because he was “told to” but, when that lifestyle did not feel right, he sold up and a decade later has been making more than $100,000 a year while living out of a van.

“I had a car and [house] — the perceived lifestyle that we’re told is supposed to make us happy but I just felt trapped,” the 30-year-old said.

At 16, Mr Asser left school in Newcastle in New South Wales and embarked on an apprenticeship as a power line worker earning “quite decent money”.

“I bought a house when I was 19 because that’s what I was told to do, but … I found myself drinking on weekends and suppressing my emotions because I wasn’t truly happy in my life,” he said.

Choosing the path less travelled

At 23, Mr Asser sold his house, car and belongings and followed an intuitive “whisper” to search for something greater.

The sharp change in direction got some loved ones offside.

“Other people in my family were really disappointed … I did definitely lose a few friends.”

From the inside of the back of a van, the doors open to a water view at sunrise.
“After the first week it felt quite normal, to be honest,” Mr Asser says of van life.(Supplied: Mitch Asser)

Mr Asser travelled the world for six years but when he returned to Australia he did not want to fall back into a life of bricks and mortar.

After watching a YouTube video of a couple who lived in a van that resembled an apartment he was “blown away” and bought a refurbished van for $40,000 and hit the road.

“The first two or three nights were a little bit nerve-wracking because you’re in this small space.”

A van to rival a small city apartment

Ms Asser’s van has hot water, a shower, a composting toilet, solar panels, a kitchen and a bed.

“It’s everything that you’ve got in a small apartment,” he said.

The only adjustments Mr Asser needed to make were to extend the length of the bed and increase the power capacity with external battery packs.

Additional power is a necessity for running his digital marketing business, which brings in more than $100,000 a year.

Man standing at a laptop inside the back of a van. The back doors to the van open out to a water view.
Mr Asser says when building his digital business he forgot the pleasure of watching a daily sunrise and sunset.(Supplied: Mitch Asser)

Mr Asser has travelled from southern New South Wales to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and spent months in some locations to get a feel for the people and place.

Nomadic lifestyle costs $1,500 a month

He says, aside from needing to find a reliable water supply, one of the biggest challenges of life on the road is uncertainty.

“Sometimes it’s uncertain if you’re going to have enough solar power to power everything,” Mr Asser said.

“I’ve had to overcome that by spending more time in caravan parks where I am able to just relax that little bit more.”


Uncertainty is a challenge Mr Asser contends with more often during the coronavirus pandemic, but the benefits of his drifting lifestyle — that comes at a cost of up to $1,500 a month — he says are worth it.

“My core value is being adventurous and it really feels that while I’m being adventurous I also still feel like I have a home at the same time,” he said.

“Australia just has so many amazing, beautiful places to visit.

“Whether it’s places to park along the beach, or the rivers, and open up the back doors and you see the most spectacular views, or going into the hinterland and find some lookouts and opening the van up and just looking out over the valleys right through to the ocean.

Man sits on the floor of a van chopping up fruit.
Mr Asser admits he prefers to eat at local restaurants than cooking but this has been difficult during the pandemic.(Supplied: Mitch Asser)

Despite the romance and freedom of life on the road, ultimately Mr Asser hopes to one day find a permanent place to call home.

“Eventually I do want to settle down somewhere,” he said.

“I really want to make sure that it’s a place that I love with all my heart so that I know that I can be happy there.

“I always think if I’m on my deathbed, and I think back to my life, would I have wanted to take this leap and try something new and if the answer is ‘yes’, then I just do it.”

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