OZONE PARK, Queens — Vanessa Moscatiello was trying anything to cheer up her heartbroken husband, Guy, in the hours after their 15-year-old pug, Spanky, was “put down” at their home last Tuesday.
“The vet was here at 8 o’clock,” Moscatiello recalled of the morning appointment last week. “He gave Spanky a sedative. From there, he was given a final injection. He passed at 8:25 a.m.”
That night, Moscatiello told PIX11 her husband found a website that was selling newborn pugs. The site was called Trainedpugpuppies.us, according to Moscatiello.
She took over the job of communicating with the seller, who said his name was Jose Walter. She said Walter sent her photos—and a video— of a 9-week-old pug named Billy that made her husband happy.
The next step?
Jose Walter “instructed me to go to Walmart and make a wire transaction to him. I went to the Green Acres Walmart. I wired $450 in cash for Jose Walter.”
Moscatiello said Walter lived in Culpepper, Virginia and made additional requests like “the confirmation number that he wanted me to take a picture of and e-mail to him immediately.”
Moscatiello didn’t know it last Tuesday, but she was being scammed by a con artist who was using a large, retail company to reach his money-grabbing goals.
This reporter didn’t realize that Walmart had money transfer services. We had already done several stories on faceless criminals who victimized elderly people in what are commonly called “grandparent scams.” In a number of cases, thieves posing as grandchildren in trouble called senior citizens and said bail money was needed to get the grandkids out of jail. The money was supposed to be sent using Target gift cards.
“It’s a reality all retailers have to deal with,” said Charles Crowson, Senior Manager for Walmart’s Corporate Communications Division, speaking of the various ways scammers try to use well-known stores to get thousands of dollars from unwitting victims.
The day after Moscatiello sent the $450, she was contacted by a “shipping” company that told her to check her e-mail. The “firm” was calling itself Global Pet Mover Carriers International.
When Moscatiello opened the e-mail, “It was stating that the pug I purchased was stuck in the airport, because he needed travel insurance. So I was instructed to send another $1,100.”
At this point, Moscatiello felt she was being scammed, so she consulted with her sister, a paralegal.
“She said, ‘There’s no shipping company! Nothing’s coming up.’”
Moscatiello said she confronted Jose Walter by phone and then by text.
She said he denied the scam, at first, but then came clean, after she called him some insulting names.
“Cry harder, goat” he wrote. “I lost my money.”
Moscatiello said she notified the Virginia State Police and filed a report with Nassau County police.
Walmart told PIX11 it has a link on its website with extensive warnings about fraud.
“We care deeply about our customers and have procedures in place to help protect them from criminal behavior,” Charles Crowson said from Walmart’s Corporate Communications office in Arkansas. “We frequently review our educational and prevention measures and, when necessary, take additional steps to better inform our customers about the dangers of scams. Any other questions should be referred to local police.”
Vanessa Moscatiello was hoping Walmart could review the surveillance footage at the Virginia store where her money was picked up.
Walmart said it would cooperate, if local law enforcement notified its offices.
“I know I acted out of emotion,” Moscatiello told PIX11. “My husband was devastated. I just wanted to take his pain away.”