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Fraudsters targeting lost pet owners, RSPCA reveals

Owners of lost dogs are being targeted by fraudsters, according to the country’s biggest animal charity. It came as two forces made arrests linked to dog theft.

Fraudsters are targeting the owners of missing dogs in an attempt to gain their bank details, the RSPCA has revealed.

The charity revealed it has been alerted by a significant number of distressed owners who revealed they had been targeted by fraudsters.

They had received calls from people claiming to be from the RSPCA and that a missing pet had been found.

The crooks then asked for bank details claiming vet’s bills for life-saving surgery were outstanding or asking for a £200 fee for its return.

The charity warned social media is being searched for missing pet posts where the owner can easily be contacted.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “In some instances, the fraudsters are mirroring our phone number so the incoming call displays 0300 123 8585 which is particularly concerning.

“We believe that these people are scouring websites and social media to find missing pet posters and are targeting owners.”

The charity added: “It's disgraceful that these scammers are preying on already distressed pet owners and we're incredibly concerned that they may end up pocketing hundreds of pounds from owners who are desperately looking for their missing pets.”

Offenders have targeted pet owners since the beginning of lockdown because there is a significant financial return and the current legislation results in far lower penalties if caught.

But forces are fighting back. A joint investigation by Greater Manchester Police and Devon and Cornwall led to the recovery of a French Bulldog and a litter of puppies.

The dogs were found in Manchester, 225 miles away from home in Exeter. They have now been reunited with their owner.

At up to £5,000, the litter would have made a significant profit – and been easier to sell as prospective buyers of the puppies are advised to ask to see the mother.

Three people were arrested on suspicion of theft and a woman was arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods.

Devon and Cornwall revealed 77 dogs have already been stolen in its area during 2020-21.

Inspector Jon Ezard from Greater Manchester Police said: "I'd like to thank our partners at Devon and Cornwall Police for their assistance, as well as the public for working with us to track them down.

"French bulldogs are an extremely popular breed, and the price of buying a dog has increased. But dog theft isn't about money for victims, they are losing a member of the family."

Essex Police revealed members of its dog section arrested a man on suspicion of dog theft following an operation in Chelmsford.

But the crime is not limited to domestic pets.

NFU Mutual, which works with farmers to tackle rural crime, revealed this week that thieves are also targeting agricultural premises to steal working dogs.

It warned: “Thefts are taking place all over the country and NFU Mutual has also been dealing with reports of stolen working dogs. There have been a number of cases where multiple sheepdogs have been taken from farms at a single time, which is an extremely worrying trend and hitting farmers hard.”

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