Pet thieves posing as Scottish SPCA inspectors are operating in Perthshire, the animal welfare charity has warned.
The hoaxers are using a white van with fake SSPCA branding and are believed to be targeting dog owners.
The charity is investigating reports that people are being stopped in the street and in parks while walking their dogs.
According to posts on social media, they are being ordered to hand over their pets because they match the description of one that was recently stolen.
There are other reports of dogs being taken from their homes.
Bosses are now trying to reach people who have reported their pets snatched by the the bogus inspectors. One victim contacted the charity’s Perth office for help, but inspectors have been unable to get back in touch.
Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “We are very concerned for the welfare of the animals who have been taken by people posing as the Scottish SPCA.
“Our thoughts are with the owners as this must be incredibly distressing for them.”
He said: “First and foremost we would urge anyone who has experienced this to get directly in touch with us.
“We will then notify Police Scotland who can investigate this fraudulent behaviour.”
Mr Flynn explained that official Scottish SPCA vans are black, and not white like the ones said to be used by the fraudsters.
He said: “Our inspectors will always be in uniform and will be able to provide identification badges with a photo and authorisation.”
The warning comes after a spate of dog thefts in the Perth and Kinross patch.
There were six stolen from the area last year, including four who were snatched from the two remote properties near Blairgowrie in October.
Three of the dogs turned up a few days later in the Birmingham area, and one has never been found.
Katie McCandless-Thomas, who runs the Missing Pets Perth and Kinross service, said: “Sadly dog thieves are becoming more brazen and these reports of people pretending to be officers could very well be linked to dog theft.”
She said: “Dog theft has risen by 170% in the past year which is extremely concerning, as thieves are targeting dogs in their gardens, left outside shops, kennels and even people advertising litters of puppies.
“More and more precautions are having to be taken by owners. We would always recommend anything suspicious to report to the police and in cases where someone is impersonating an animal welfare officer the SSPCA too.”
The Scottish SPCA has urged anyone that is unsure about someone at their door claiming to be an inspector, to call the charity immediately. “Our inspectors will respect your need to do this,” a spokeswoman said.