According to the UK national reporting center for cybercrime and fraud, animal lovers and pet owners across the country have lost over £2.5 million in pet fraud since 2020.
Action Fraud’s most recent alert reminds citizens to remain vigilant and learn to spot signs of fraud in pet ads before buying a pet online.
Pandemic-induced national lockdowns have provided fraudsters with various ways of defrauding the public, including capitalizing on the increase in pet purchases via social media, online marketplaces or pet-selling platforms.
The restrictions have allowed these types of fraudsters to get away with millions by asking future pet owners to pay a deposit without seeing the animal first. Not long after the first payment is deposited, the crook will ask for more funds to cover veterinary costs such as vaccines or treatments, insurance and delivery.
During the first national lockdown, between April and May 2020, Action Fraud received over 800 reports of fraud, with 71 percent of victims claiming they were scammed while trying to purchase a dog or puppy. 20 percent said they were looking for a cat or kitten.
Most fraudulent activities were noticed via specific pet-selling platforms (37 percent), followed by online marketplaces (25 percent) and social media (11 percent).
“We would always recommend that you view the animal in person before paying any money,” reads the alert. “If you cannot see the animal in person, ask for a video call. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.”
Protecting against online pet fraud
If you’re thinking about getting a new pet, you can take some steps to protect against scammers.
“Criminals have, and will continue to use, the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to scam unsuspecting victims,” notes Pauline Smith, director of Action Fraud. “It’s important that if you’re considering purchasing a pet online, that you follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign by taking a moment to stop and think – it could protect you and your money.”
Don’t act out on excitement or impulse when buying a pet. The best recommendation would be to ask to see the animal in person before making any payments. There are plenty of ways to ensure a safe meeting with the seller and abide by social distancing measures. If the seller is not in your city, schedule a video call. It’s also a good idea to ask to see the mother and the rest of the litter before purchase of a puppy or kitten. If the owner declines, consider searching for a new pet seller.
Review the pet sellers’ reviews and history on the platform and ask about any “hidden fees” such as visits to the vet, vaccines and delivery. Chose the payment method wisely. Bank transfers should be made with caution. Try to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the seller, and pay in cash. If this is not possible, avoid paying via bank transfer. Stick to payment services such as PayPal that allow you to recover your money in case of a scam.