SOUTH YORKSHIRE Police have issued a warning to local residents after more than £280,000 was stolen nationally in a scam involving purchasing pets.

Yesterday, Action Fraud has revealed that 669 people have lost a combined total of £282,686 in March and April across the UK, after putting down deposits for pets they had seen advertised online.

In an alert, Dannielle Lee, the cyber protect officer for South Yorkshire Police, said: “Action Fraud have advised that criminals are continuing to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to commit fraud, as a scam involving the purchase of pets, such as puppies and kittens.

“The adverts that victims had responded to were posted on social media, general online selling platforms, and also specific pet selling platforms.

“The criminals posting these ads never had any animals to sell and will ask victims to put down a deposit for the pet to secure the purchase.

“They use the outbreak of the coronavirus and the current lockdown restrictions as a reason why the victim would not come and see the animal first, or pick it up.

“After the initial payment more and more funds will be requested to cover insurance, vaccinations and even delivery of the pet.

“To help protect yourself from scams like this - do your research.

“Before purchasing anything online, including pets, look up reviews for the site, or person, you are buying from.

“If you are still not sure, ask a trusted friend or family member for their advice.

“Choose your payment method wisely.

“If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, avoid paying by bank transfer as that offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud.

“Instead, use a credit card or a payment service such as PayPal.”