Police are issuing a warning after people in Surrey have been duped by 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 50s from Caterham responded to an advert for a puppy posted on what she thought was a reputable website. The dog was said to be for sale for £1,500 and after seeing pictures and video of the puppy, she was conned into paying a £300 deposit in order to secure it.
It is commonplace to pay a deposit to secure a puppy but the victim became suspicious when the seller asked for a screenshot of the bank transfer. Then she discovered that the name on the bank account and that on the invoice were different. Once the deposit was paid, none of the victims calls or emails were answered and that is when she contacted the police and her bank.
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 Surrey and Sussex 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.
If the victim is vulnerable, report to Surrey Police online or by calling 101. In an emergency always dial 999.
For information about Operation Signature, Surrey Police’s campaign to identify and protect vulnerable victims of fraud, see the Force website at www.surrey.police.uk