It was 3:45 a.m. when Angela Ingram received a call on Thursday from a man claiming to have her family's missing dog.
Yogi, the Ingrams' 6-year-old German shepherd/Leonberger mix, had gone missing from their Burbank home at the beginning of April. Since then, the family has posted about Yogi all over social media and around the city in the hopes of someone finding him.
The family included their contact info and offered a $500 cash reward.
And then she received the call. The number's area code was from Georgia, but the man on the other end said he has Yogi.
All Ingram needed to do was to send the man a $500 Amazon gift card and then she can have the dog back.
"Needless to say I did not do that, he's scamming us for our dog," she said.
While the family did offer a reward, asking for payment in the form of a gift card set off alarm bells.
Ingram said the man also alternated between using male and female pronouns when referring to Yogi. He also claimed to not have a working camera when she asked to see a picture of the dog.
Ingram said the man has continued to text her about Yogi, still claiming to have him. In one text, he said Yogi misses his family while in another the man refers to the dog as "YOGA."
The man also sent a text to Ingram saying he'll sell the dog to someone if he doesn't get the gift card and continued to refer to the dog as Yoga.
"He's saying the meanest things," Ingram said. "I can't believe that someone would do this to a heartbroken family just trying to find a family member."
While she knows it's a scam, Ingram said she's texting back and portraying herself as a "naïve wishful thinking hopeful" in the hopes of gathering more evidence — she's already gone to the Burbank Police Department about the scam.
Burbank Police Sgt. Derek Green said Ingram's case is probably the first of its kind reported in the city. Although, he said it's similar to scams involving people who claim to be with a utility company or with the IRS.
In those cases, scammers claim they will shut off someone's utility service or threaten a person with an audit unless they're paid several hundred dollars — oftentimes in the form of a gift card.
"Anytime somebody requests payment like that, when it's in the form of the gift card I'm definitely suspicious of it and people should be too." Green said.
He said people should always call the police when they receive a call like that. And, in the case of a missing pet, Green recommends people check local animal shelters in case someone brings them there.
Although Yogi is still missing, Ingram hopes that other people with lost pets won't become victims to this kind of scam.
"I hope that we get Yogi back," she said. "I just don't want anyone to fall prey to this kind of activity when they're in a desperate, vulnerable position."