Pet owners are being warned about a new scam targeting people whose animals are missing.

The RSPCA said a pet owner from East Sussex recently contacted the animal welfare charity after being told their missing pet had been found.

The scammer told the owner, who had been anxiously looking for their cat for several months, that they worked for the RSPCA and that the missing cat was injured and had been cared for at an RSPCA centre before moved on to a vet centre.

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This was to try to get the reward offered by the pet owner for information about their cat.

The owner called the vets and discovered that their cat was not there.

The RSPCA, which has its headquarters in Horsham, said the scam was detected before money had been exchanged.

A spokesman said: "It’s disgraceful that these scammers are preying on already distressed pet owners and we’re incredibly concerned that they may end up pocketing hundreds of pounds from owners who are desperately looking for their missing pets.

"We want to reiterate to the public that the RSPCA would never ask for money in relation to  missing pets over the phone in this way and would urge anyone who receives such a call not to give out their personal details.

"Fraudsters have previously mirrored our phone numbers so the incoming call displays this, which is particularly concerning. 

“We believe that these people are scouring websites and social media to find missing pet posters and are targeting those owners who have offered financial rewards.

“If your pet is missing please alert your microchip company and inform local rescue centres and vet practices as well as speaking to neighbours and local businesses.

“If you are using missing pet posters or sharing your pet’s details online please be aware that your phone number may be used by scammers and be incredibly careful when offering reward money or sharing any banking details over the phone."

Anyone being contacted about a missing pet in RSPCA care should ask for a reference number and the officer's name.

They should then call the charity’s national call centre on 0300 1234 999.

If the call is not genuine, people should alert the police.