Action Fraud is warning fraudsters are posting adverts for non-existent animals and pet accessories online.
Between March 2012 and April 2018, 5,066 reports were made to Action Fraud.
Victims reported losing £3.1m during this time – an average of £40,640 per month.
Fraudsters are advertising pets and pet accessories on online marketplaces at a lower than expected price in an attempt to attract victims. The fraudsters are then demanding full payment or a deposit for the animal via bank transfer or electronic wire.
To prevent requests to visit the animal, fraudsters will tell victims that it is located in a remote or faraway location, which stops them from travelling to see it.
In some cases, they tell victims that they need to pay further fees for animal travel insurance, documentation or special travel cages. Victims are promised that some or all of these extra fees will be refunded when they receive the animal, however once these funds have been transferred, the fraudster will stop all communication, leaving them out of pocket and with no pet.
The highest number of reports related to pugs – 224 reports were made between January 2012 and May 2018.
Fraudsters are also offering pet-related products for sale which don’t exist or are not as described. Equine accessories accounted for 92% of monetary losses. Between January 2012 and May 2018, 368 reports were made which concerned a horse box or trailer. The total reported loss was £1.1m.
Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said: “When a person falls victim to this fraud, the upset and financial loss caused can be huge and the promise of a family pet to children is often left empty.
“This is why it’s so important that you follow our advice to help protect yourself and always trust your instincts – if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to us.”
Dogs Trust veterinary director and chair of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group (PAAG), Paula Boyden, said: “We are incredibly concerned about the huge numbers of pets advertised for sale via online classified advertising websites. Sadly this trade knows no bounds and we are well aware of the lengths these sellers will go to, to turn a profit, including blinding the public with cute images, fake information and too good to be true prices.
“We advise people visit a pet several times before they take them home – this will lessen the chance of this type of fraud as well as helping reduce the risk of buying from an unscrupulous seller who puts profits over animal welfare.”
If you think you have fallen victim to this type of fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or call 0300 123 2040.