FAMILIES in Swindon have been left devastated after having their dream four-legged additions to the family taken away from them by suspected puppy fraud. 

At least three families in the town put down £300 cash deposits for French bulldogs after seeing Gumtree and Facebook adverts and viewing them at a West Swindon address at the end of July.

But in August they received messages from the seller to say that their puppy was ill before eventually being told it had died. 

When they attempted to get their deposits back, the seller told them she no longer had the cash. 

And when the families went back to the address to get answers, they discovered that the seller had moved out. 

Natasha Evans from Redhouse had deposits down for two puppies.

The 33-year-old said: “There were six puppies when we viewed them and mum and dad were there so there was no reason to suspect anything was untoward. They kept sending photos and videos.

“When I questioned about the puppies being ill I was told lots of things that didn’t make sense. And then when I was told the puppies had died, I questioned it again and the seller got funny with me and blocked me.”

“I had to explain to my children and they were really really upset.  I was crying that day, because I’d already started to emotionally invest in them.”

Fellow Redhouse woman Dawn Wedge, 44, said: “I’m angry, I’m frustrated. I’m concerned about the puppies and I’m very sad. The children were devastated. 

“I had already bonded with the puppy because they sent videos and pictures and now I feel stupid for falling for it.”

The puppies were supposed to be rehomed at the beginning of September.

The matter has been reported to Action Fraud.

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said: “We would urge anyone considering buying a new pet to use caution to ensure they do not fall victim to fraud.

“We would stress that the onus is on purchasers to conduct due diligence on puppy breeders, to get terms of deposit and puppy health written into a contract signed by both parties, to offer them buyer protection.

“Action Fraud has some simple advice to try to protect yourself.

“Do your research – if you’re making a purchase from a website or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first.

"Trust your instinct – if you’re unable to view the animal in person, ask for a video call. If you’re buying a young animal, make sure you’re able to see the mother and rest of the litter. Any responsible seller will understand why you want to view the animal in person. If the seller declines, challenge them on why. If you have any suspicions, do not pay any money until you’re certain it’s genuine.

"Choose a payment method that protects you – avoid paying by bank transfer. Credit card or payment services such as PayPal give you a better chance of recovering your money if you become a victim of fraud.

“If you believe you have been a victim of fraud then you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040."

A spokesperson for Gumtree said: “Fraudulent behaviour is not tolerated on our site and we were very sorry to hear about the experiences of these individuals.

“We would strongly encourage anyone who experiences suspicious behaviour, or has concerns about a sale or the welfare of an animal, to report it to us immediately through the “Report” button listed next to all ads.

"This allows our dedicated safety team to then investigate and take the necessary action, such as blocking the offender or working with law enforcement on their investigations.

“We are totally committed to tackling fraud and ensuring our users can safely rehome pets, and we encourage all of our users to visit our Help Desk at help.gumtree.com, where they can learn more about buying and selling safely on our platform.”