A WARNING has been issued to Warrington residents as new figures show that over £2 million has been lost to criminals through fake pet adverts.

Data from Action Fraud, the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, reveals that £2,638,323 was lost by prospective pet owners in the 2020/2021 financial year, after they put down deposits for pets they saw advertised online.

This was an increase of over 20 per cent compared to the previous financial year.

Capitalising on the rise in people getting pets due to the national lockdowns caused by coronavirus, criminals have been posting fake adverts on social media, online marketplaces and specific pet-selling platforms.

Unsuspecting victims will be asked to pay a deposit for the pet without seeing it in person first, with many criminals using the restrictions caused by the pandemic as a reason why they cannot see the animal.

After the initial payment is made, more and more funds will be requested to cover additional costs such as insurance, vaccinations and even delivery of the pet.

Warrington Animal Welfare have responded to the news by offering advice for animal lovers.

A spokesperson said: “We regularly warn people not to buy pets from breeders who advertise online, especially on social media.

“As a charity we often deal with animals who have been bought online, even puppies who have been dropped off at someone’s door or picked up in car parks.

‘‘Animals that turn out to be sick or have behavioural issues, which the new owner cannot afford or are prepared to deal with.

"We know that there are lots of unscrupulous breeders and sellers out there who exploit social media and classified websites to sell puppies and kittens.

‘‘A lot of these animals are sick, too young or it could be a scam, with no pet for sale at all.

“By buying an animal online people are, sometimes unwittingly supporting animal exploitation, such as puppy farming and backyard breeders.

“There are 1,000s of animals in rescue waiting for homes, WAW currently has lots of cats, kittens, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs all waiting and we wish that people would consider adopting a rescue animal first.

‘‘But if that is not possible, to be patient and take the time to find the right pet, to do the research and do it responsibly.”

Action Fraud have also offered advice:

Do your research: if you’re making a purchase from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first. Look up reviews of the website or person you’re buying from. If you’re purchasing an item from an online marketplace, you can view the seller’s feedback history before going ahead with the purchase.

Trust your instincts: if you’re unable to view the animal in person, ask for a video call. If you’re buying a young animal, make sure you’re able to see the mother and rest of the litter. Any responsible seller will understand why you want to view the animal in person. If the seller declines, challenge them on why. If you have any suspicions, do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.

Choose your payment method wisely: avoid paying by bank transfer. Credit card or payment services such as PayPal give you a better chance of recovering your money if you become a victim of fraud.

When things go wrong: Anyone can fall victim to fraud. If you think you’ve 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 visit Warrington Animal Welfare here: https://warringtonanimalwelfare.org.uk/