The demand for dogs has soared during the pandemic, with Google searches for "buy a puppy" rising by 166 per cent.
However, those still hoping to acquire their very own pooch are being warned about fake online adverts.
Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, said that there has been a 20 per cent rise in scams.
Criminals seeking to cash in on the lockdown-driven pet boom have raked in an estimated £2.6 million during the 2020/21 financial year.
People have lost money after responding to posts advertising dogs and puppies as well as cats and kittens on social media, online marketplaces and – even – pet-selling platforms.
In many cases, animal-lovers were encouraged to hand over funds as a deposit, after being presented cute pictures – only for no animal to be delivered.
Action Fraud say that criminals often used COVID-19 restrictions as their excuse for why no viewings could take place first.
After paying the deposit, some have then been asked to fork out for other costs, like insurance, vaccinations and delivery.
The organisation also found that just over a quarter of those who fell victim to the scams were between 20 and 29 years old, with 74 per cent aged 20 to 49 years old.
The vast majority – 71 per cent – had been trying to purchase a dog or puppy, with 20 per cent hoping to welcome a cat or kitten into their home.
Pauline Smith, Director of Action Fraud, said: “Criminals have, and will continue to use, the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to scam unsuspecting victims."
She added: “We would always recommend that you view the animal in person before paying any money. If you cannot see the animal in person, ask for a video call."
Other advice from Action Fraud when purchasing a pet over the internet includes doing your research, as well as trusting your instincts.
They also advise being careful about which payment method you use – opting for credit card or services like PayPal over bank transfer, as this will make it easier to recover money if something goes wrong.
A report released in March revealed that 3.2 million households had acquired new pets during the pandemic.
According to the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, more than half of new owners were aged 16 to 34 years old.
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