Animal lovers warned of pet buying scams

Police are issuing a warning after several people in Sussex have become victims of pet buying scams.

The suspect typically advertises puppies or kittens online and uses the Covid-19 outbreak as the reason the victim can’t come and see the pet. 

They will often send photos or videos and persuade the victim to make a deposit or even full payment in advance. The suspects may also try to get the victim to cover other unforeseen costs such as insurance or vaccinations, after they’ve made the initial payment. The pet is never provided.

A woman in her 20s from Worthing responded to an advert for a puppy posted on Facebook. The dog was said to be for sale for £400 plus a £100 delivery fee as it was in Ireland, she was conned into paying a £250 deposit.

The victim received an email that appeared to be from a shipping company advising that a life insurance payment of £300 must be paid in order to ship the puppy from Ireland to England.
She spoke to the seller as this was not agreed and was told it was due to the Covid-19 outbreak and was refundable. The victim became suspicious following the interaction and contacted police.

A man in his 30s, also from Worthing, responded to an advert for a puppy on a pet selling website.

After speaking to the seller and seeing videos of the puppies he sent them a £700 deposit and agreed to pay the additional £200 upon collection of the dog.

The seller ceased communication with him and he never received the pet.

Action Fraud has reported a significant spike in pet buying scams since the Covid-19 outbreak. Nationwide it has seen 669 people lose a combined total of £282,686 in March and April, after putting down deposits for pets they have seen advertised online.

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex and Surrey Police said: “Criminals are on the lookout for any opportunity they can capitalise on – and clearly the extraordinary times we find ourselves in are no exception.

“It makes complete sense that you would not be able to go visit an animal in person at the moment and fraudsters are exploiting this to encourage people to part with their cash.
“Please think very carefully before sending money to a stranger. Make sure you’ve done your research and always trust your instincts.”

To help protect yourself from scams like this:

Do your research – Research sellers carefully before sending over any money, check their terms and conditions and returns policy.

Trust your instinct – If something feels wrong or seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Never be rushed into making a decision – if it doesn’t feel right then walk away.

Choose a payment method that protects you – If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, avoid paying by bank transfer as that offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Instead, use a credit card or a payment service such as PayPal. 

Report crime like this to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.