Heartless scammers have taken more than £280,000 from animal lovers looking for a pet during lockdown.
Nearly 700 people have paid deposits for pets – mainly puppies and kittens – advertised online.
But Action Fraud warns that the sellers are criminals and the pets do not exist.
They are using the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to say customers cannot see the animals before buying.
In the last two months (March and April) 669 people paid out £282,686 in deposits.
The crooks then ask for more money to cover insurance, vaccinations, and delivery.
The animals are advertised online through social media and pet selling sites.
Since lockdown started the price of puppies and kittens has escalated.
Three months ago, a cocker spaniel puppy cost about £800 – now they are going for up to £2,000.
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said:
“The fact criminals will even exploit an international crisis to take innocent people’s money is especially cruel.
“But, unfortunately, as we spend more time online, and are forced to adapt to a new way of life, opportunities will arise for criminals to commit fraud.
“During these unprecedented times, it may seem quite plausible that you should have to pay a deposit for a pet and that you wouldn’t be able to see the animal in real life first.
“However, we would encourage you to think carefully before you transfer any money – do you know and trust this person?”
An RSPCA statement said: “Unfortunately we’ve investigated many criminal gangs who are willing to exploit animals in order to make a quick buck and now, during this time of international crisis, they will be trying new tricks to cash in and con the public.
“We’d urge anyone thinking of getting a new pet to think long and hard about whether they can properly care for that animal, not just now but into the future when restrictions are lifted and their lifestyles become more busy.
“If people do decide now is the right time to get a pet, then we’d always urge them to consider adopting instead of buying an animal.
“We still have thousands of animals in our care at the moment and have restarted rehoming some animals in England with strict measures to keep our staff and the public safe.
“Anyone who is concerned about a breeder or seller should walk away and contact the local council and RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.”
Action Fraud suggests the following tips to protect yourself from scams:
- Do your research. Before buying online, whether it is pets or other purchases, look up reviews for the website, or person, you are buying from. If you are still not sure, ask a trusted friend or family member for their advice.
- Trust your instinct. If you cannot physically go to see the animal in person, ask for a video call. If the seller declines, challenge them on why. If you have any suspicions, do not go ahead with the purchase.
- Choose your payment method wisely. If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, try to avoid paying by bank transfer as it may offer you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Instead, consider using a credit card or a payment service such as PayPal.
If you think you have fallen victim to a fraud, contact Action Fraud as soon as possible: