The 12-year-old behind the Craigslist cockatiel scam

John Fetto's wife, Rita, loved their bird, Valentine. Five years ago, Rita died of breast cancer at age 47. So when Valentine flew out of John's car window in Bernal Heights on June 1, it hit him particularly hard. Six weeks and $1,200 later, he hasn't found Valentine. But online pet scammers have found him.

Fetto began frantically posting lost ads on both real and virtual sites and scouring Craigslist's lost and found. Finally, a few weeks ago, one Craigslist user found an emaciated, exhausted cockatiel — and Fetto was "85 percent sure" it was Valentine. After a week's stay at the Oakley office of the Bay Area's top bird vet, the cockatiel was back in the land of the living. But it wasn't Valentine.

So Fetto posted a "found bird" ad on Craigs-list. And that's when "Tracy Rennals" started writing. She thanked him for finding her bird, yet could not describe any of its specific attributes. And when Fetto mentioned a large veterinarian's bill, the conversation ended abruptly.

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Fetto would have let it go at that, but when he went to look at a cockatiel found by Andrew Levy, the Berkeley resident said that he, too, had received e-mails from Rennals. What's more, when Levy plugged her phone number into Google, it revealed a number of posts on Craigslist selling videogames, Xboxes — and cockatiels.

SF Weekly called the number and got ahold of "Rennals" — who turned out to be a 12-year-old Fremont boy who is not named Tracy Rennals. The boy quickly admitted he attempted to rip off Levy and Fetto and sell the birds on Craigslist, but "I quit that." He also admitted attempting to obtain Levy's bird by e-mailing from a second, non–Tracy Rennals address. This ploy was foiled, however, when he opted to use the name "Jordan Farmar" — who happens to be the point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Matt Linton, the technical director of the San Jose–based bird rescue Web site, said that Craigslist is teeming with older — and more competent — pet scammers than Rennals. He added that those who post pictures of the pets they find are doing would-be scammers a huge favor.

In the meantime, Fetto is still looking for Valentine. If anyone sees a cockatiel with a pure yellow crown in the Bernal Heights area, give Fetto a squawk.

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