Owners of lost dogs in Merseyside are the victims of a "cruel" nationwide scam that demands cash to ensure their pet's safety.
The DogLost website, a platform that helps owners who have lost dogs to track down their pets, told the ECHO that they have recorded 70 incidents across the country whose owners have been targeted since the beginning of October.
Four of them were in the Merseyside area.
Fraud usually involves sending a poorly worded message from an unknown number requesting a small amount of cash – usually between £ 25 and £ 50 – for the safe return of the dog.
If owners pay the money, they will not get their dog back and will not be able to contact the person who sent the money.
It is unclear whether dogs are actually stolen by the criminals, but often several owners are contacted at the same time.
Lauren Shaw, 23, from Fazakerley, had stolen her puppy – a miniature poodle named Lola – in June when her house was broken.
She told the ECHO from the moment she discovered her dog had been stolen.
"I was heartbroken, I could not even speak," she said.
"She was more than a dog, she was like a baby, I had her from April to June."
Lauren, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Liverpool, had another dog at that time who was not taken into the burglary because he was "a bit snappy."
She added, "I was absolutely desperate, I have no children and they were like my babies."
Shortly after putting up posters worth a £ 1,000 reward for her dog's return, she received a call from a "distorted" voice demanding money for her dog to be returned.
She said, "Someone called me from a phone number and said," I know where your dog is. "
"They said they wanted the money first. If I did not agree, put the phone on me.
"The phone call was really distorted. They did not use a real voice. I knew it was not true.
When asked what she thought of someone stealing a pet, she said, "Stealing a dog is worse than stealing a possession.
"You can always replace a possession, but to steal a dog, you must have a special way of life to do something cruel."
In a "Scam Warning" post on his website in June, Doglost tried to draw attention to the problem and shared its numbers with police across the country.
Commenting on Doglost's contribution, "I've just received a text saying you know where my dog is and that if I pay £ 15, I'll give the name and address.
"Then I have to pay another 10 pounds if I collect. I did not respond. I can send you more details and screenshots of the news. I feel numb.
Another comment said, "I was also targeted, how can people be so cruel?"
Doglost told ECHO: "This is a growing problem that is happening at the national level.
"A poorly written text is usually said to have information about the whereabouts of the missing dog for a small amount of £ 25- £ 50 – usually several owners are contacted simultaneously.
"Doglost has been trying to bring this issue to our attention, we have a post on our blog, a missing page anchored at the top of our website, and our coordinators remind owners to be aware of it."