Future pet owners are being warned about a new online fraud that has scammed victims out of £3 Million.

Action Fraud has issued a warning that between March 2012 and April 2018, 5066 reports were made to the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. Victims reported losing £3,129,273 during this time, an average of £40,640 per month.

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith said: “Fraudsters are taking advantage of people looking for pets online, often to bring into their family. When a person falls victim to this fraud, the upset and financial loss caused can be huge and the promise of a family pet to children is often left empty. This is why it’s so important that you follow our advice to help protect yourself and always trust your instincts, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to us.”

How does the scam work?

Fraudsters are advertising pets and pet accessories on online marketplaces, at a lower price to attract customers. They then demand payment in full or a deposit for the animal via bank transfer or electronic wire. Fraudsters then tell victims that the animal is located in a faraway or remote location which is difficult to travel to, preventing victims from visiting their future pets.

Action Fraud say that in some cases fraudsters are requesting further fees from victims, to pay for animal travel insurance, documentation or special travel cages. Fraudsters promise to refund these extra fees once the animal is delivered, however, no money is ever returned and the fraudster will cease all communication with their victims.

A spokesperson for Gumtree, an online marketplace which advertises pets and pet accessories for sale, spoke to Action Fraud and said: “At Gumtree, we take the welfare of animals seriously and work hard to ensure our site is a safe place to rehome pets. We comply with the Pets Advertising Advisory Group 18 industry endorsed standards to improve animal welfare in an ecommerce environment. Last year, we introduced a compulsory paywall in our pets category, in a bid to deter unscrupulous operators from misusing our platform and discourage the illegal trading of animals online.

“Our online Pets Advice Hub, which has been developed with guidance from the RSPCA and PAAG, aims to educate users on buying pets safely and responsibly online. We have a dedicated safety team to monitor and regulate our site, but we also actively encourage our customers to report any ad they believe encourages or indicates signs of animal cruelty. A full summary of our rules around listing for pets can be found on our website, were we also provide advice on how to buy pets safely on our site and a checklist for potential buyers.”

Action Fraud have issued the following advice to avoid being scammed:

  • If you are purchasing goods and services from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, or ask friends and family for advice before completing a purchase. Remember if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Avoid paying for goods and services by bank transfer as that offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Instead, use a credit card or payment services such as PayPal.
  • Ask for photographs or videos of the animal. A responsible seller will understand why the buyer wants photographs and more information before making a purchase.
  • Use the online marketplace’s report function if you come across suspicious adverts or sellers.
  • Sellers offering to meet you halfway, seems generous but you should only buy the puppy directly from the place where he or she was born and raised.
  • When buying a puppy, you must insist on seeing the puppy interacting with its mother and littermates in the location where they were bred and reared. Try to visit the puppy more than once too.

A report from Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) shows that 61% of victims were female and 22% of victims were 20 – 29 years old. It also shows that 31% of people said falling victim to this type of fraud had a significant impact on their health and financial wellbeing.

The report suggests that fraudsters are targeting victims who wish to buy popular breeds. The highest number of reports related to pugs – 224 reports were made between January 2012 and May 2018, with victims losing £76,451.

Fraudsters are also offering pet-related products for sale which don’t exist or are not as described. Equine accessories accounted for 92% of monetary losses. Between January 2012 and May 2018, 368 reports were made which concerned a horse box or trailer. The total reported loss was £1,145,369 with an average loss of £3,112 per victim.

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