Rise in puppy sale fraud Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Be cautious when buying pets online

In the last three weeks, the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), which investigates fraud across the region, has received ten reports of people being tricked out of their money after responding to an advert to buy a puppy online.

In each case, the buyer transferred the money to the seller. When they went to collect the puppy they found that the address they have been given is incorrect.

On one occasion it’s believed one address was given to nine different people. The homeowner had no knowledge of the advert.

Offenders are using the COVID-19 lockdown as a reason for requesting the money for the puppy before the exchange is due to take place.

Detective Sergeant Kieran Doyle, from ERSOU’s regional economic crime unit, said:

“Sadly there are unscrupulous people who are looking to take advantage of the current lockdown situation by tricking people into handing over money in scams such as this one.

“Not only are people handing over large sums of money for a pet they will never receive, they also have to deal with the emotional fall out and disappointment of the situation.

“We’d urge people to be cautious before buying anything online, but in particular animals such as puppies. If someone is requesting full payment before you have physically seen the puppy or if they’ve demanded a bank transfer rather than accepting PayPal or payment on collection, then we would advise you not to go ahead with the sale.

“The fraudster may also request further fees for travel insurance, documentation, or equipment. However this never materialises.

“We’d also ask that you take the time to properly research the seller – in scams such as this the seller’s details are often linked to multiple adverts on several different selling sites, which could be another red flag.”

Tips from Action Fraud

To help protect yourself from scams like this, Action Fraud have issued the following advice:

Do your research
Before purchasing anything online, including pets, look up reviews for the site, or person, you are buying from. If you’re still not sure, ask a trusted friend or family member for their advice.

Trust your instinct
If you can’t physically go to see the animal in person, ask for a video call. If the seller declines, challenge them on why. If you have any suspicions, don’t go ahead with the purchase.

Choose your payment method wisely
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.

Anyone who has concerns or information about this scam is urged to contact Action Fraud in the first instance by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.