HORRIFIED staff at an animal charity were left reeling after claims that a puppy farm was duping buyers using their identity.

Oak Tree Animals’ Charity, in Wetheral, near Carlisle, was alerted to the suspected scam by a worried would-be owner after coming across an Instagram site online.

General manager of the charity Caroline Johnson has warned people to be wary after recent reports of illegal farms breeding puppies in appalling conditions.

She believes that buyers are being misled by being given a link to the charity’s website and address and then being encouraged to have the puppy “shipped” to them for £500 each.

Caroline said: "We are horrified that a puppy farm is posing as an animal charity to make a money from animal suffering.

“When we were alerted to this Puppy Farm’s actions by a worried purchaser, we acted swiftly to alert the police and other animal charities who may also be affected by this.

“We advise anyone considering getting an animal to check thoroughly the source of their animal and, if in any doubt, not to proceed.

"Animal charities will never rehome an animal without meeting the potential new owners and Oak Tree ensures that owners and animals are a good match prior to rehoming.”

“Potential owners should always see the animal at the rescue centre prior to adopting, ask questions of the animal caseworkers and should be fully informed of any medical and behavioural issues.

"All animals from charity members of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes will ensure animals are vaccinated, neutered, microchipped, where appropriate, and fully assessed.

"Animal charities usually ask for a fee of between £75 and £200 - dependent on the animal. If you are being asked to pay over £500, alarm bells should be ringing.”

“We, like other animal charities, work hard to prevent the horrific animal welfare issues that we see in puppy and kitten farms including extreme sickness, fatalities and animal abuse and we hope that this will help alert the public to the lengths to which these unscrupulous sellers will go.”

A spokesperson for the RSCPA said they were aware of the case and that police were investigating, including the location of the instagram site.

The Instagram page was contacted for a statement but did not get a comment before publication.