Action Fraud issues advice for buying a pet online after £2.5 million was handed to fraudsters by unsuspecting animal lovers in the last year
Animal lovers are being warned to take extra care when trying to buy a pet through the internet as fresh figures show millions has been lost to criminals through fake pet adverts in the last year.
New data from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, reveals that £2,638,323 was lost by prospective pet owners in the 2020/21 financial year, after they put down deposits for pets they saw advertised online.
With an increase of more than 20% in the numbers searching for a new animal since the start of the pandemic, criminals have capitalised on people's desire to find a new member of the family with fake adverts on social media, online marketplaces and even on specific pet-selling platforms.
In many cases unsuspecting victims will be asked to pay a deposit for the pet first without seeing it in person, with many criminals citing restrictions caused by coronavirus as the reason why the animal isn't ready to be seen.
After the initial payment is made, more funds are then sometimes requested to cover additional costs such as insurance, vaccinations and in some cases even the delivery of the pet.
Pauline Smith, Director of Action Fraud, explained: “Criminals have, and will continue to use, the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to scam unsuspecting victims.
“We would always recommend that you view the animal in person before paying any money. If you cannot see the animal in person, ask for a video call. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.”
During the 2020/21 financial year the department on average received more than 400 reports each month from people who suspected they'd been the victim of some form of pet fraud. But at the start of the first wave of the pandemic, across April and May 2020, numbers peaked at more than 800 incidents a month as many animal lovers sought to purchase an animal during the first national lockdown.
The majority of scams - more than 70% - were related to dogs and puppies followed by cats and kittens. And the eye-watering amounts mistakenly given to criminals has prompted fraud experts to issue a series of tips to help people remain cautious when trying to buy a new pet online.
* Do your research: if you’re making a purchase from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first. Look up reviews of the website or person you’re buying from or if you're using an online marketplace take a look at a seller's feedback history before going ahead.
* Trust your instincts: if you’re told you can't view the animal in person, ask for a video call. If you’re buying a young animal, make sure you’re able to see the mother and rest of the litter. Any responsible seller will understand why you want to view the animal in person. If the seller declines, challenge them, and if you continue to have any suspicions do not pay any money until you can be certain it’s genuine.
* Choose your payment method wisely: avoid paying by bank transfer. Credit card or payment services such as PayPal give you a better chance of recovering your money if you become a victim of fraud.
* When things go wrong: Anyone can fall victim to fraud. If you think you've been scammed contact your bank immediately and report the incident to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.