Anatomy of a Puppy Scam Part 1: Meet Layla
An Investigation by Tokyo_v2 and wondersmith_rae
Money scams are incredibly prevalent online, we have all seen them in our spam folders. Many of these scams arrive in the form of phishing emails penned by a mysterious Nigerian prince who promises to send you $100,000 USD if you can just wire some money upfront. This type of scam is known as an Advance-Fee Scam and is one of the most common types of confidence scams. The setup begins with the victim being promised a large sum of money in return for a small upfront payment to release the large sum. Once the victim makes the initial payment, the thief either disappears or concocts additional small fees they require to complete the transaction. A less common version of this scam involves the sale of goods, or in this case, puppies.
Designer dogs and purebreds are a highly sought after commodity and people will spend large amounts of money for the dog of their dreams. This blog began as a small idea to locate a puppy mill posing as a rescue and scamming people out of money. What we ended up finding was a massive web of lies and money scams spanning over a decade. Because of the magnitude of details we found on this scam, it is broken into 2 parts. This is part 1, Meet Layla.
Tiny-teacup dot com
Tiny-teacup dot com is a website designed to target individuals looking to purchase teacup and micro-teacup sized dogs. In the screenshot below, we can see that they sell all types of breeds from Frenchie to Maltese — all teacup-sized of course. The photos on the site are of incredibly small dogs that are either very newly born or have obviously been photoshopped to look extremely small. Reverse image searching these images showed that they have mostly been stolen from other places on the internet.
When we click on a specific dog we see a ridiculous description describing how “Lil Cookie naturally pushes us to express more love in our environment.” The descriptions appear to be written strangely and possibly translated into English through a service.
We can also see the price of $6,800.00.
If we decide to apply for the dog we are taken to a form that allows us to add all sorts of amenities such as a Hot Oil Spa for an extra $150 or a $300 Puppy Photo Package. Additionally, they try to get you to consider buying an extra puppy for a discount of $1,000. Great deal. In several complaints, the fees that the victims paid totaled over $8,000.
Money details aside, the contract also requires the victim to provide a home address, email, and many other family details that could be exploited or sold by the scammers.
If the contract is approved, Tiny-Teacups emails the victim a receipt with delivery confirmation and eventually flight and puppy passport details. Payment is due back within 2 days or the contract is void. Under no circumstances are refunds issued at the request of the buyer.
It is interesting to note that based on this contract the cost for shipping through PetSafe is $500 USD. Using the measurements for the above dog “Cookie” of 2.5 lbs we used PetSafe’s “Help me Estimate” tool to estimate shipping from Indiana (where Tiny-Teacups dot com states they are located) to Washington, DC. Shipping a dog with these specifications only costs $247 per PetSafe, not the $500 they Tiny-Teacups requires.
Verifying the Scam
By now we are all very sure this is a scam site but to confirm our suspicions we did a Google search to see if anything obvious shows up. We were soon inundated with posts about micro teacup pet scams involving Tiny-Teacups dot com and someone named Layla Mandi Tayeb.
How the scam works
The Tiny-teacup dot com scam works just like many other advance-fee scams, dogs are offered for sale via a website with the only points of contact being a web form and a burner phone number. Once the victim sends in a completed contract along with the payment, Tiny-Teacup sends a phony flight receipt. When the shipping time comes, the victim is either denied the puppy for various fictitious reasons or the puppy never just never shows up at the airport. Many times the scammers tell the victim that the crate was not the appropriate size and they need to pay further in order to meet flight requirements.
This scam, although routine, seemed rather elaborate for one single person to pull off so we decided to take a look at the domain using Spiderfoot HX to try to figure out what the organization looks like behind the scenes.
Spiderfoot ended up running for 5 hours and pulling over 65,000 data points just from Tiny-Teacup dot com! Using the correlations feature we were able to see that this domain is considered a malicious entity by a lot of sites.
Spiderfoot also scraped the names of reviewers from the website so we investigated them a bit further to find out if they were real customers. We zeroed in on a singular reviewer named Ahmad Alami and his generic review of his purchase.
When we view Ahmad’s info in Spiderfoot we get multiple social media accounts to investigate that are associated with his identity. After reviewing every one of his social media accounts it is apparent that they are either empty or most likely bots. This is true for every reviewer on the Tiny-Teacup site, so we began to ask ourselves why would they go through so much work for a puppy scam? This brings us back to Layla.
The one name we continuously encountered while researching Tiny-teacups is Layla Mandi Tayeb. We were able to determine Layla’s connection to Tiny-Teacups from a partial email address found on the Tiny-Teacups twitter account ( la***********@g****.***). When we ran Laylamandi dot com through Spiderfoot HX we received the full email Layla.email@example.com within the Whois data. Since dogpuppiesale links to Tiny-teacup from their profile, this allowed us to verify that Layla Mandi registered both Laylamandi dot com and Tiny-Teacups.
Having made the connection between her and our target website, we began to investigate and quickly realized Layla has quite a prolific history. Not only does Layla sell and breed teacup dogs, but also large dogs, and she is the CEO of a halal makeup company in Dubai, a self-named “Branding Genius”, an author, and unfortunately due to a fall from a porch in Thailand, she has been paralyzed.
Without questioning the legitimacy of Layla’s injuries, we are able to see that Layla has several Indiegogo campaigns set up asking for large amounts of money via bank transfer or Swift payment. Indigogo is a crowdsourcing site that allows people to request money and users can back them by sending money through the platform. Layla bypasses the platform by posting her bank transfer info directly into the campaign.
Additionally, you can contact Layla through her organization “Paralyzed Life” which is aimed at raising funds for equipment to help her walk again while simultaneously selling her halal beauty products.
Because of Layla’s spinal injury, she was able to receive a service dog from OfficialServiceDogRegistry dot com, however, the reverse image search of the dog photo shows up on multiple other websites unrelated to service dogs.
In July, she was spotted with a different service dog named Drama while in Dubai at a “Dog Parent’s Meetup”.
The Plot Thickens
Using Layla’s personal website Laylamandi dot com we were able to use RiskIQ to pull the historic Whois records prior to WhoisGuard being added. This provided us with an email address Layla.onepure at gmail, it also gave us the name for a person we call Registrant 1 that we will save for later.
Now that we have a confirmed email address, we can run that through RiskIQ. From this scan, we gained a long list of domains that had been registered under this email address. The most notable below are Poshpocket pups, Tiny-teacups, and Bootiquepuppies but as you can see they had quite a few scam sites set up for the same purpose.
Starting with Posh Pocket Pups, we did a Google search and found many complaints posted to message boards like Pissed Consumer claiming they were also scammed by Layla through Posh Pocket Pups. Below are just a few examples of how this scam played out and affected real people.
Anatomy of a Puppy Scam Part 2: The Organization
In the next edition of Anatomy of a Puppy Scam, we will dive into the organization behind these scams and break down how all the key players are connected.