Animal lovers scammed out of £280,000 during coronavirus lockdown

5 May 2020, 08:27

Pets such as puppies and kittens have been advertised by scammers
Pets such as puppies and kittens have been advertised by scammers. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Victims of pet scams have been conned out of more than £280,000 collectively over the past two months since coronavirus lockdown measures were introduced.

Throughout March and April, a total of 669 people have lost a cumulative total of £282,686 to criminals after putting down deposits for pets they saw advertised online, according to Action Fraud.

Fraudulent adverts, claiming to sell animals such as kittens and puppies, were posted on social media and both general and pet-specific online selling websites.

Action Fraud warned that these sellers do not have any animals to offer and will ask victims to put down a deposit for the pet to secure the purchase.

Con artists use the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown restrictions as an excuse for why the victims cannot come and see the animal first or pick it up.

The national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre said after the initial payment, more fund will be asked for in order to cover insurance, vaccinations and delivery.

Scams have been reported all over the UK, peaking in April after 524 incidents were recorded.

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: "The fact criminals will even exploit an international crisis, such as the one we find ourselves in now, to take innocent people's money is especially cruel.

Read more: 'A dog is for life, not just for lockdown' charity warns

Read more: How do I spot and avoid coronavirus fraud?

"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?"

Pet scams are just one of a multitude of frauds being practised during lockdown.

Others include scammers selling fake coronavirus testing kits, carrying out bogus collections or asking for money to do people's shopping for them and then disappearing with the cash.

People have also been offered false investment opportunities offered to people whose pensions and savings have dropped due to the economic impact of Covid-19.

A statement from the RSPCA 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 breeders or sellers should not hand over any money, should walk away, and contact the local council and RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Action Fraud suggests the following tips to protect yourself from scams:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 fraud, contact Action Fraud as soon as possible.