Woman scammed by man claiming to be cat breeder in Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More and more people stuck at home in the pandemic want pets, and scammers are preying on them. A Maryland woman says a man claiming to be a Richmond breeder cheated her out of her money and never kept his promise to provide a cat. Cute kittens are the perfect bait for an online scam, and Michelle Gotis has learned that the hard way.

“We really led with our emotions and our hearts. We really wanted those kittens,” Gotis said. The Maryland teacher wanted her kids to have experience raising Ragdoll kittens.

The Ragdoll cat breed has blue eyes and is known for its docile and affectionate temperament.

Gotis and her children were home during the pandemic and thought it was time for a kitten. She started her search for pets online. She fell on ragdollkittencattery.com. Unlike other sites, there was no waiting list and the breeder immediately texted her. “He had kittens available right away, we were excited, good price,” Gotis said.

The man claiming to be Darryl Johnson quoted him $1,100 for two kittens with a $500 down payment. He requested that the money be sent through a money transfer app. He told her she could pick up her pets in Richmond. Gotis bought and sent $500 two weeks ago.

“By adopting these animals, you’re working on a bit of blind faith,” she admitted.

When Johnson backed out of the Richmond encounter and offered to ship FedEx cats for an additional fee, she suspected it was a scam. When she looked up the Richmond address the so-called rancher had given her, she discovered it was a house for sale.

8News went to check and found no sign of a cat. We then called the listing agent. The real estate agent told us: “The owners were very worried and didn’t know anything about it. They don’t know of any Mr Johnson who has anything to do with cats.

So we called Johnson to talk to him about it. We identified ourselves and he said, “We sell kittens. We asked why would he provide the address of a house that is for sale and with which he has no connection. He said to us: “I don’t meet people at my address Madam, I meet people in a park?

We asked if that was the case, so why not just meet in a public park? He said: “I feel like they were just going to play a game and I was going to play mine.”

We reminded the man that the customer paid him. There was a silence. None of the answers matched.

Gotis also realized she may have been fished out in her quest for cats when she Googled one of the photos on the ragdoll cattery website. The photo posted claimed to be that of Johnson’s family. Turns out he was removed from another breeder’s site.

“It’s my photo,” Robin Ryman said. Ryman owns Fairyfriendsragdolls.com. She is a registered breeder located in Northern Virginia. She tells us that the photo with her and her five children was stolen. “I was just thinking how far can you go,” Ryman said. Robin says these types of scams hurt her and other legitimate breeders. She said, “It’s very irritating because I’m an honest person.”

8News also asked Johnson about it. He said to us, “Madam, we have two websites. We asked him what the name of the other website was. He couldn’t tell us.

8News dug a little deeper. While the site claims to be registered with TICA, the international cat association and Association of cat lovers and displays the logo of both associations and both groups, they told us that they had no registered cattery with that name and that no Darryl Johnson was affiliated with either of them. CFA told us:

“a. We have reviewed the website https://ragdollkittencattery.com/available-kittens/. They use the CFA name and logo but no CFA cattery name is mentioned.

b. We have reviewed our records and cannot find any CFA cattery owned by Darryl Johnson.

vs. We have reviewed our records and find no listings or other transactions with CFA by Darryl Johnson.

D. The phone number and email address you obtained for Darryl Johnson are not listed in our directory.

e. We have compared the information you provided in your message with that of other breeders in the area and other Ragdoll breeders, and found nothing to indicate that Darryl Johnson has any connection to the CFA.

“My first reaction is shame on my part because I could have been a wiser consumer. My other reaction is disgust, to prey on families who are only looking for pets,” she asked. Gotis says she now realizes all the research she did on the backend, that she should have done on the frontend.

Barry N Moore, President and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia was not surprised by anything we found. He said “They are professional criminals.” Moore told us the BBB has seen a spike in pet-related scams during the pandemic. “The scammers are out there and they’re scamming people left and right with these pets,” Moore said. He urges people to do their research. “Go to these professional sites. See the owner, see the pet,” Moore advised.

Looking back, Gotis admits that should have been a red flag. “Every time I ask for photos of the kittens together, he just can’t produce them,” she said.

“You really need to hold this animal,” Moore said.

We gave Johnson one more chance. We called him again. We then asked him outright if it was a scam, he hung up. “It’s shameful what he’s doing. I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Gotis said.

Gotis filed complaints with the police, the FBI and the BBB. She has also contacted her bank but does not know if she will ever get her money back. TICA and the Cat Fancier’s Association tell us that they are working with their attorneys to have their logos removed from this site.

Some other advice on not getting scammed, the BBB says to beware of sites with bad grammar.
Ryman advises you to avoid breeders who won’t talk to you on the phone. She also suggests that you request a Facetime call so you can see the breeder and the cats are real. Ryman tells us she does this with clients all the time. The BBB also offers you to pay by credit card. You have more options for disputing a charge with credit than a money transfer app. The BBB also encourages you to report a scam that others are not falling victim to. You can check if something is a scam here using the The BBB Scam Tracker.

You can also find more tips for choosing a breeder and scam warnings here: https://tica.org/breeds/find-a-cat/breeder-listings

Meanwhile, several local shelters and rescues are encouraging those looking for the animal to consider adopting it. They tell us there are hundreds of kittens that need homes.

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