Skuldoggery: A warning to others after pet author falls victim to online puppy scam
- In March & April 2020, 669 people lost a combined total of almost £300,000 after putting down deposits for pets they saw advertised online
- Almost 1 in 5 (18%) of us are likely to get a new pet by looking online
- Puppy prices hike: average price being asked from March to September 2020 was £1,883, compared to £888 during the same period in 2019 
- More than a third of us (34%) intend to take on a new pet in 2021
The coronavirus crisis and subsequent national lockdowns are driving unprecedented demand for new pets. According to national animal charity, Blue Cross, just over a third of us (34%) are intending to welcome a furry friend home this year.
But this overwhelming surge in demand for pets is fuelling devasting problems: inflated prices have turned dogs into commodities, unscrupulous breeders are charging eye-wateringly large amounts of money and dog theft has been cited as an increasing thefts as numbers rise. 
On top of this, pet scam adverts soared last year. In March and April alone 669 people lost a combined £282,686 after putting down deposits for fictitious pets that were advertised for sale online. Blue Cross themselves were inadvertently linked to scam adverts on Facebook after prospective buyers contacted the Centres in Cambridge and Manchester letting them know they were told to pick up their new puppy at the location.
Unfortunately, as we’re forced to spend more time at home, pet scammers continue to look for every opportunity to cash in.
And as almost 1 in 5 (18%) of us are likely to get a new pet by looking online, criminal activity is only expected to accelerate further in 2021. One scam even saw a guinea pig being sold as a £2K puppy!
One such victim was international best-selling author of “A Street Cat Named Bob”, James Bowen. After spotting an online advert himself, James and his fiancé contacted the seller. Both were led to believe they were communicating with a legitimate breeder who had a litter of puppies selling at £850 each. A virtual viewing was set up, but they received a message the day before with a photo claiming to be the last available puppy. The message told James the price of the remaining puppy had dropped by £200.
James and Monika were so excited and not wanting to lose out that they transferred the deposit to an account online. A few hours later, a message arrived to arrange the puppy’s collection. Soon after, the messaging platform was disabled without warning and no further contact was able to be made. James lost his entire deposit.
Becky Thwaites. Head of Public Affairs at Blue Cross, said: “Sadly, James’s story is not unique one. Unscrupulous breeders and sellers are taking advantage of the increased demand for puppies. And, where responsible breeders have been stopping, or reducing breeding due to concerns over being able to find the right homes ethically, criminals have been taking advantage. Many buyers are simply not receiving the puppy they think they have bought and many are also purchasing ill, or even dying animals as criminals just look to make money and exploit the current environment, with no welfare concern. We can’t stress enough how people need to do their research.”
The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Prospective pet owners must beware of sinister sellers out there who breed animals purely for profit with little concern for their welfare. The devastating consequences include crippling vet bills and, in the worst cases, animals having to be put down.
“It’s vitally important that people not only research the breed of animal they want but also the person selling it to them.”
Interview: In a bid to warn the world of all the ongoing dodgy dog dealings, James is available to share his own experience of being scammed.
Becky Thwaites is available from Blue Cross.
Images: 5 puppies who were handed over to Blue Cross care this week as result of an unwanted litter and an owner who fell ill and was unable to care for them.
 Figures from the Pets4Homes website, based on 1500 online adverts
Notes to Editors
- Images, video and spokespeople available for comment contact the media team
- Blue Cross is a national charity that has been helping sick, injured, abandoned and homeless pets for over 120 years. We help thousands of pets in need every month by providing veterinary care, expert behaviour help and find them loving homes. We also offer education for current and future pet owners plus pet bereavement support for those who have lost their pet companion. Pets help us in so many ways and they depend entirely on us, with your support we can give back to more pets in need. Pets change lives. We change theirs.
- For more information visit bluecross.org.uk
- Background briefing from DEFRA:
- Deceitful sellers will use many different tricks to mislead buyers and can often put financial gain ahead of an animal’s welfare needs.
- Don’t just research the breed of animal you want – taking the time to properly research the seller. It’s the best way to ensure your puppy or kitten has had the best start to life.
- Anyone looking to buy a pet can get tips and advice by searching “Get your pet safely” or visiting getyourpetsafely.campaign.gov.uk
Blue Cross media team: 0300 777 1950 / [email protected]