The scam has been in existence for a number of years, but reported incidents increased substantially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when pets became more popular as people sought comfort and company during respective lockdowns. Fraudsters exploited this situation, and also the enforced travel restrictions and social distancing, making it difficult to view pets in person.
In some cases, the fraud continues after the initial payment is made, with the perpetrators requesting additional payments, purportedly to cover costs such as vaccinations, insurance and delivery.
The majority of fraudulent advertisements for pets appear on specific pet selling platforms, online marketplaces and social media, in that order.
Protect yourself against pet scams
If you are considering purchasing a pet from a website or individual not personally known to and trusted by you, research them as thoroughly as possible. Look for and read reviews from other buyers. If the platform is an online marketplace, check out the seller’s feedback history before proceeding.
- Always view the animal in person, making sure you can also see the mother and the rest of the litter (if any siblings). If you are unable to do so, request a video call on Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or one of the many other commonly available methods. If the seller tells you that you cannot either have a video or see the animal’s mother, ask them why, remembering that fraudsters are experienced in deception and manipulation.
- Do not make any payments – however small – unless you are certain that the animal exists and meets your expectations, including its background.
- Never pay by bank transfer, as it will be difficult or impossible to recover your money if it is a scam, or there is a problem with the animal itself. You will stand more chance of getting your money back if you pay by credit card or a payment service such as PayPal.
If you fall victim to a pet scam
If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.
- You can find more information on buying a dog at thekennelclub.org.uk/getting-a-dog
- You can find more information on buying a cat at cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/getting-a-cat
- The RSPCA offers information on the cruel practice of puppy farming, including advice on how to identify it in a dog you are thinking of buying rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/puppy/sales