PET scams have risen more than 400 per cent in lockdown as crooks target those desperate for a companion.
A reported 1,428 victims lost £614,226 to fraudsters during March, April and May alone.
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At the start of that period, Action Fraud police were receiving 145 complaints a month. But by the end, the figure had risen to 759.
In many cases, bogus breeders collected deposits for non-existent pets.
Action Fraud head Pauline Smith said: “During these unprecedented times, it may seem quite plausible that you should have to pay a deposit for a pet and that you wouldn’t be able to see the animal in real life first.
“However, we would encourage you to think carefully before you transfer any money — do you know and trust this person?”
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Animal organisations such as the RSPCA are also concerned about pups not being handed over.
A spokesman said: “Many puppies who have been bred to sell in the summer boom will be left languishing in terrible conditions on puppy farms, or abandoned and left to fend for themselves.
“The public must ensure they only buy puppies in a responsible manner and not inadvertently support criminal gangs using dogs to make a quick buck.”
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