With both children having fled the nest and a wife keen to get me from under her feet, I have decided it’s time to find affection from man’s best friend.
Of course, with Christmas around the corner, I am not alone. Interest in owning a dog has surged as a result of lockdown and remote working. Online searches for puppies are up 400 per cent on the same time last year.
Yet looking for a canine companion online is not as easy as you would think – and fraught with danger as I discovered almost to my cost last week.
Adorable: But crooks are using Facebook, top right, to lure in would-be dog owners. Above right, posts from crooks on Messenger
I was initially hooked by the image of lovable labrador puppies offered for free on Facebook via a ‘free puppies for adoption near me’ link. With golden labradors normally costing £1,700, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. So I thought I would see if I could snap up a canine bargain.
I responded to the link with the comment: ‘Those puppies look gorgeous. Don’t suppose you have any still available?’
Within two minutes I received a reply via online texting service Messenger. It read: ‘Hello thanks for the intrest [sic] you have in are [sic] puppies they are still available and ready to go now’. It asked: ‘Where are you located please’.
Of course, I was suspicious straightaway – grammatical errors are usually a sign of fraudsters operating from overseas. But I continued – now more in the interests of journalism than finding myself a cut-price four-legged friend.
I was soon told a dog was waiting for me in London. A London postcode followed – NW56 8GE – which I questioned as it does not exist. Back came a reply: ‘Ohhh sorry for that it was a mistake. London. SE24 2UZ’. This postcode also does not exist.
After asking some questions about the dog I wanted, I was told I could get a ‘free’ 12-week-old male dog that has had all the necessary jabs and vaccines – against parvovirus (a killer of many dogs) and rabies. Excited? No, because I now knew I was dealing with some pretty unsophisticated fraudsters.
I was then told that before I could pick up the dog, I would have to pay ‘just 250’ – presumably £250 – to process all the adoption documents. They would then email me copies to show that I would then be ‘legal owner of the baby’.
My demands to see the dog in the flesh before committing to a sale were ignored. I was told to pay via an online international money transfer service or use a prepaid Vanilla Visa card that I could buy at any Walmart store.
‘I thought Walmart was based in the US? Is that where you are based,’ I asked. The correspondence abruptly stopped. It seemed the fraudsters knew they had been rumbled. Had I handed over the money they demanded, I am certain I would have received the same stony silence.
I am not the only person to be targeted by such scammers – and sadly some people are so blinded by their desire to buy a puppy that they hand over money. Crime data collector Action Fraud says more than 4,000 people have fallen victim to such pet scams since March. In total they have been tricked out of £1.5million – on average, £375 a fraud. This number is likely to rocket in the run-up to Christmas.
Action Fraud’s Teresa La Thangue says: ‘Criminals are using the pandemic to push this scam. They play on the fact that lockdown restrictions are preventing people from travelling to see the dog they want to buy. As a result, some are willing to pay money upfront. If you cannot go to see an intended pet, ask for a video call where you can view it with your own eyes. If this is not an option, it should raise suspicions. Be patient.’
Reliable: Teresa La Thangue with her dog Boots, collected from Appledown Rescue and Rehoming Kennels