Warning as missing cat scammers target city owners

Lois Southorn, who went to collect her mother's cat Bruce from scammers in Norwich

Lois Southorn, who went to collect her mother's cat Bruce from scammers in Norwich, only to find no one at the address knew of him. - Credit: Vivienne Southorn

"Cruel" con artists are claiming to have found missing pets before attempting to steal hundreds of pounds from their owners. 

Vivienne Southorn, who lives in Earlham, said she "nearly had a heart attack" when she lost her beloved cat Bruce last Thursday and spent days hunting for him.

The mum-of-one, who lives in Earlham Road, said: "Until you own a cat you'll never understand. Our world just fell apart when we noticed he was gone.

Bruce the cat returned home in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Bruce the cat returned home in the early hours of Saturday morning after being the target of scammers. - Credit: Vivienne Southorn

"He slipped out during the storm."

The professional photographer turned to Facebook and began posting missing pictures. 

She believed her prayers had been answered when a mysterious stranger called her saying they had found Bruce. 

She explained: "We were on a ten mile walk searching for him and when we got back we had a call saying he had been found.

Bruce the cat, who went missing from Earlham Road in Norwich.

Bruce the cat, who went missing from Earlham Road in Norwich. - Credit: Vivienne Southorn

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"The person was so supportive, looking back perhaps too supportive. 

"They said they needed a fee to cover the costs of looking after him. Initially they said it was £5 but then it changed to £8."

The family was given an address in central Norwich which related to a dog walking business. 

Ms Southorn said: "We paid - our guard was down."

But when the tabby's rescue party arrived in the form of Ms Southorn's daughter Lois, who is in her 20s, it appeared the fraudsters had tricked the NR2 family.

Ms Southorn said: "The gentleman at the address had no idea about Bruce.

"Interestingly though he himself had been scammed in the past. It's so cruel because they're so clever.

Bruce with best friend Eddie the dog, at their home in Earlham, Norwich.

Bruce with best friend Eddie the dog, at their home in Earlham, Norwich. - Credit: Vivienne Southorn

"We immediately cancelled our cards and we've since learned that they tried to take large sums of money. In fact they tried to empty my account entirely."

But a "great relationship" between Bruce and her cockapoo dog Eddie eventually saved the day.

Bruce and Eddie's "great relationship" helped to bring the cat home.

Bruce and Eddie's "great relationship" helped to bring the NR2 cat home. - Credit: Vivienne Southorn

Ms Southorn explained: "Eddie responds to a whistle and Bruce loved Eddie.

"On Saturday I was at the window shouting and blowing my whistle and he turned up at 2am."

Since reporting the incident to the police Ms Southorn said six other people have either messaged her on social media or called her to say they have fallen victim to the scammers. 

Ms Southorn warned: "I just want people to know they attack you when you're low."

Pet owners defrauded by £2.6m in one year

Action Fraud, the reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime, revealed that £2,638,323 was lost by prospective pet owners in 2020/2021.

Up 20pc on the previous year it was due to owners paying deposits for pets advertised online but never took home. 

It comes amid a rising trend prompted by people wanting to get pets during the pandemic. 

Pauline Smith, director of Action Fraud, said: “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. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.”

In the 2020/21 financial year, Action Fraud received over 400 reports a month from victims of pet fraud.

Over a quarter (29pc) of victims were aged 20 to 29 years old, and almost three quarters (74pc) of victims were aged 20 to 49 years old.