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Criminals target pet owners online

Fraudulent websites offering pet relocation services aim to con users in the UK.

By Duncan Macrae

Animal lovers trying to buy or re-home pets are falling for online scams and being conned out of hundreds or even thousands of pounds at a time, antivirus specialist Bitdefender has claimed.

The online security firm has recently blocked a wave of fraudulent websites promising pet relocation and related services in the UK.

Fake sellers and shippers ask victims for funds to be paid in advance to cover flight insurance, health certificates and veterinarian taxes which victims send via Western Union, Money Gram, GreenDot or MoneyPak. One of the most recent pet scams promised shipping and travel services for dogs and cats within the UK, US, Australia and a number of European countries.

The fraudulent company called itself the leader in the horse relocation "industry" and its website states: "While your pet is travelling, rest assured that your Pets Relocation professional will be keeping an eye on your pet’s travel. In addition, Pets Relocation will provide you with the necessary information so, if you wish, you can also follow your pet’s travel route."

For horse shipping, fraudsters asked for a deposit of at least 90% of the cost and a 50% deposit for booking a shipment, advising that extra charges could result from "veterinary bills while en-route" and even from a "difficult horse that takes more than 60 minutes to load".

Catalin Cosoi, chief security strategist at Bitdefender, said: "This particular pet relocation website, identified by Bitdefender, allegedly offers a free mobile app but the link is not valid. We recommend that British users avoid buying, adopting or relocating pets online with a new website as it is extremely risky. Online threats technologies block such websites with a fraud alert message."

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In the last couple of years, pet scams have been constantly circulating with many variations. After losing money and personal data, victims may also be contacted by the same or another scammer pretending to be a lawyer or law enforcement officer who offers to get their money back. Users should also be careful with UK global redirects or personal forwarding numbers that appear to be coming from the UK and begin with +44(0)70.

Thousands of victims were recently duped by a veteran fraudster who is back behind bars after coming up with a new scam that preyed on animal lovers. The scammer tricked victims into investing between £3,000 and £30,000 in franchises for a business called "Return-A-Pet". He now reportedly faces up to 40 years in prison.

Bitdefender recently detailed the technical differences between phishing and fraud in a whitepaper about the make-believe industry that was published in the Virus Bulletin.

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