Action Fraud is warning the public to make sure they’re not barking up the wrong tree this Christmas, as animal lovers have lost almost £2 million to fake pet adverts since March.
Figures from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, show that criminals conned 4,751 animals lovers out of £1,935,406 between March and November this year, after they put down deposits for pets they saw advertised online. This is an increase of over 400% when compared to the same period in 2019.
Capitalising on the rise in people getting pets due to the national lockdown caused by coronavirus, criminals have been posting fake adverts on social media, online marketplaces and specific pet-selling platforms. Unsuspecting victims will be asked to pay a deposit for the animal without seeing it in person first, with many criminals using the restrictions caused by the pandemic as a reason why they cannot see the animal. After the initial payment is made, more and more funds will be requested to cover additional costs such as insurance, vaccinations and even delivery of the pet.
Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said:
“Criminals will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people, including taking advantage of people looking for pets online. They may use the coronavirus pandemic as a reason why you cannot see the animal in person before paying a deposit, which seems plausible. However, 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 instinct and do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.”
In one report received by Action Fraud this year, a victim lost over £14,000 after they purchased three African Grey parrots online. The victim was asked by the suspect to make further payments for transport, insurance and similar costs, but the parrots never arrived.
In another report, a victim lost over £600 after they purchased a puppy online. The victim was later asked by the suspect, who claimed to be from a company responsible for the delivery of the pet, to transfer more funds to cover costs such as vaccinations. The victim transferred the additional funds and was later informed by the suspect that the puppy had died.
Criminals have even gone as far as misleading animal lovers by lying about the breed of the animal they’re selling. One victim reported buying a Cockapoo puppy for £3,000. After speaking to a vet and carrying out a DNA test, they found that the puppy was a Bedlington Terrier. The victim later found out that the puppy had been previously sold to the suspect for £400.
Action Fraud is therefore urging the public to follow some simple steps to ensure they have a #FraudFreeXmas this year.
Dogs Trust Veterinary Director and chair of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG), Paula Boyden, said:
“We are incredibly concerned about the huge numbers of pets advertised for sale via online classified advertising websites which can be a front for fraudulent activity.
“Dogs Trust has recently carried out consumer research polling 2,000 people in the UK who had either bought a puppy or are looking to buy one in the future. 44% said they would be willing to buy a puppy from an online advert despite 41% saying they knew someone who had a bad experience or had been scammed and 60% saying they were concerned that it is easier to be scammed since the pandemic.
“These sellers will go to appalling lengths to turn a profit, including blinding the public with cute images, fake information and too good to be true prices. If it appears too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
“Dogs Trust would encourage everyone wanting to welcome a dog into their life, to consider adopting a rescue dog. You could give a rescue pup the life they deserve or give an adult dog a second chance to enjoy life in a loving home. If you do decide purchasing a puppy is the right thing for you, it is vital that you do your research.”
Sadly, it is all too easy to be scammed into buying a dog which may not be what it seems. Dogs Trust calls this Dogfishing. Remember:
- Always see puppy and mum together at their home and make sure to visit more than once, even if it is via video call due to coronavirus restrictions.
- Never pay a deposit up front without seeing the puppy in person.
- Ask lots of questions and make sure you see all vital paperwork, such as a puppy contract – which gives lots of information about their parents, breed, health, diet, the puppy’s experiences and more.
- If you have any doubts or feel pressured to buy, as hard as it may be, walk away and report the seller to Trading Standards.
For more information and advice about how to avoid being misled when buying a puppy advertised online, search ‘Dogfished’ or visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/dogfished.
How can you protect yourself from falling victim to pet fraud?
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. If you’re purchasing an item from an online marketplace, you can view the seller’s feedback history before going ahead with the purchase.
Trust your instinct: If you’re unable to physically 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 on why. If you have any suspicions, do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.
Choose your payment method wisely: Avoid paying by bank transfer as that offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Use a payment method, such as a credit card if you have one, that offers buyer protection in case anything goes wrong.
When things go wrong: Anyone can fall victim to fraud. If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.