Rogue websites advertising fake numbers for The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) cruelty line are scamming the public and potentially leaving animals without the care they need.
The premium rate 0844 numbers advertised are designed to rack up a heavy bill for the caller and are tricking the public into thinking they’re affiliated with the animal charity.
The RSPCA said when a member of the public dials the fake number they’re charged a premium rate and then diverted to their National Control Centre.
This means the caller may not be immediately aware of the scam.
The RSPCA conducted a search on Google and discovered eight different scam sites with the incorrect 0844 premium rate numbers in the first 10 pages of Google.
Not only can these numbers leave people with a hefty phone bill, but it also means members of the public may be put off contacting the charity when an animal is in desperate need of care.
Dave Allen, the RSPCA's head of education and advice, said: "The amount of sites out there advertising incorrect contact numbers for our charity is very worrying.
"We're urging people to watch out for websites with fake numbers and information that doesn’t sound quite right.
"Some of the sites can be quite convincing with unauthorised feeds from our official Twitter and Facebook page which makes them look all the more real.
"Unfortunately it can be difficult to get these sites shut down, but we’ve been trying to solve this issue by reporting the problem to Google so that the sites aren't ranked highly in searches.
"We've also lodged a complaint to the UK’s communications regulator OFCOM and now we're trying to raise awareness of this scam with the general public.
Allen said the charity had received a number of complaints from members of the public who had been left with a hefty bill after inadvertently calling the wrong number.
“Calls direct to the RSPCA cost the same as a call to any UK landline number. However, these fake and premium rate numbers can charge as much as 7p a minute plus your phone provider's access charge,” Allen said.
“We rely on the public to contact us when an animal is in need and the last thing we want is for someone to be put off by an awful scam like this. Please ensure you have the correct number when searching by clicking on the RSPCA official website.”
If you need to report cruelty, or a sick or injured animal, contact the RSPCA'S 24-hour cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.