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The decision to buy a pet is not one that you should take lightly. You have to decide whether you can afford it – the main costs will be food and vet bills – and whether you’ll be able to look after it properly.

If you believe you’re up to this, your next step is to look for a pet. You don’t even need to leave the house to do this as some sellers place adverts online, but be careful as fraudsters are now using these sites to scam victims.

The scam

Action Fraud has seen an increase in the number of pets – particularly puppies and kittens – advertised for sale on popular online auction websites.

Fraudsters are placing these adverts using stolen photos of pets that they claim are currently abroad or outside of the UK. The fraudsters usually ask for additional payments to cover the cost of courier charges, shipping fees or vet bills when transporting the animal.

The conmen usually ask you to make a bank transfer once you’ve agreed on a price. Even if you pay more money, the pet still probably won’t arrive. In fact, it probably never existed in the first place.

How to protect yourself

You don’t necessarily have to stay away from auction sites altogether to protect yourself from this type of scam – you just have to know what to look out for. Follow these tips to help you spot a phony advert.

• A genuine seller should want to make sure that the animal is going to a loving and caring home. Be cautious if the seller doesn’t ask you any questions about yourself or your property.

• You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for further information about the animal before you agree to a sale. Ask for copies of the pet’s vaccination history, as well as their breed paperwork and certification. If the seller is reluctant to give this information, the pet may not exist or be illegally bred.

• Use the information you get from the seller to find out more about them. For example, if you have a mobile number or email address for them, check this out online. Putting this information into a search engine could show up any negative information about the seller.

• Ask for the details of the courier company they use and check whether they’re a genuine business.

• Arrange a time to meet up face-to-face (if they live abroad you could talk over a video chat service) to agree the details of the sale. If the seller is reluctant to meet up or talk to you over video chat, this could suggest that the pet does not exist.

• If the price is too good to be true, it probably is, especially if the advert says the pet is a pure-breed.

Remember, there are a number of other ways that you could go about buying a pet. You could consider buying them in person from a rescue centre or from a reputable breeder.

If you’d rather rescue a pet, you can use RSPCA’s search engine to find a pet in your local area.

Think you’ve already fallen victim to a scam like this? Report it to Action Fraud using their online reporting tool.

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