Police officers are investigating more than 100 reports of fraudsters targeting the owners of missing dogs, threatening them with blackmail and violence.
Within hours of distressed owners posting missing pet appeals online, scammers would call them claiming to have found the animals.
The alleged fraudsters then demand money for the dog to supposedly be returned safely.
This year, dog thefts across the UK reached a seven year high, with the equivalent of eight dogs a day being stolen every day.
Police officers are investigating more than 100 reports of fraudsters targeting the owners of missing dogs and threatening them with black mail and violence
The pandemic saw a boom in people buying dogs, with 3.8 million people getting a dog during the pandemic, hiking the price of our beloved pets – and making them a lucrative item for criminals.
Police have been investigating reports of scammers pretending to have found the dogs for more than two years now – with some of the criminals believed to have pocketed hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Victims targeted by the criminals have been left suicidal with one woman receiving a rape threat, The Times reported.
The incidents are believed to allegedly being carried out by the same individual living in Cumbria.
Scammers have threatened to harm and even shoot dogs if owners refused to pay as a scare-mongering technique.
This year, dog thefts across the UK reached a seven year high, with the equivalent of eight dogs a day being stolen every day
Some victims innocently paid scammers more than £1,000 believing their dog would be retrieved.
Others knew there was a possibility paying a stranger over the phone could be a scam but were desperate to get their pet back home.
Founder of DogLost Jayne Hayes told The Times the reports were likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’, with volunteers on ‘suicide watch’ as older people were being threatened.
The charity even had to remove owner’s numbers from its website and on DogLost poster’s to prevent the scams occurring.
Cumbria Police has been criticised over its handling of the ongoing situation, with the scammers still operating despite the first report being made in February last year.
Those at the charity believe between up to £200,000 could have been earned in the past two years by the alleged scammers
Wayne May, who is a volunteer police liaison at DogLost told The Times, he raised the alarm with police officers after a woman in Manchester said she wanted to take her own life as she could not afford to pay the scammers the money they demanded.
He said: ‘I think the police are massively failing, I really do. I think this year he (the alleged criminal) has stepped it up a notch. He is now telling female owners that he wants to rape them and sexually abuse them.’
Those at the charity believe between up to £200,000 could have been earned in the past two years by the alleged scammers.
The police force told The Times it was a ‘very complex investigation’ as victims are all over the UK.
Offices have interviewed several people and conducted ‘extensive inquiries’, arresting 12 men between 20 and 42 and three women between 29 and 39 all from Barrow-in-Furness.
In 2021, 2,760 dogs were snatched from their owners – an increase of 16 per cent since 2015
In 2021, 2,760 dogs were snatched from their owners – an increase of 16 per cent since 2015.
London was the worst affected area with 422 incidents reported to the Met police, followed by West Yorkshire and Kent.
West Yorkshire Police recorded 199 reports of stolen dogs last year, nearly two thirds more than in 2020. Kent Police received reports about 182 stolen dogs in the same year.
Norfolk Constabulary, however, had the greatest success at returning dogs – reuniting 25 out of the 29 reported stolen with their owners.
Members of the public have been warned not to send any money for rewards for finding pets over the phone or online.
MailOnline has contacted Cumbria Police for a statement.