Many people have purchased or considered buying a pet over the past year-and-a-half, often as part of lifestyle changes made during the pandemic.
It’s easy to be drawn in by photos of cute-looking animals online. But when scrolling through pet ads, it’s worth considering that over £2.6 million was lost by would-be owners in the 2020/21 financial year, after they had put down deposits for animals advertised online – which turned out to be scams.
Action Fraud, which released the figures, says the total is an increase of over 20% compared with the previous financial year.
Victims have reported being scammed on social media, online marketplaces and specific pet-selling platforms, with many duped by fake promises of dogs and puppies or cats and kittens.
Jim Winters, head of fraud at Barclays says: “Over lockdown, we saw a particular rise in pet scams, where people paid in advance for a pet that they’ve seen online or been sent images of, only to find out the animal doesn’t exist.
“The issue with these types of scams is that when people are buying or investing in something that they really want, such as a family pet, suspicions they may have are often overlooked and they go against their better judgment, which leaves themselves open to being duped,” Winters warns.
Criminals will use cute photos to draw victims in (Nick Ansell/PA)
“Our advice is to stop and think before making a purchase, always ask for a second opinion from a friend or relative, and never just assume that the seller is who you think they are.
“Always make sure you complete extra research and read reviews to ensure the person, company or website you are buying from is genuine,” he adds. “If you have concerns, do not give any personal or payment details, or be pressured into sending money, and remember – if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
Here are Action Fraud’s top tips to protect yourself from pet scams.
1. Do your research
Look up reviews of the website or person you’re buying from. If you’re purchasing an item from an online marketplace, view the seller’s feedback history before making the purchase.
2. Trust your instincts
If you’re unable to 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. Responsible sellers 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.
3. Choose how you pay
Credit card or payment services such as PayPal could give you a better chance of recovering your money following a fraud. Action Fraud also advises people to follow the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, which says pause to think before parting with money or personal information (takefive-stopfraud.org.uk).