PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) – Petersburg police have released a public service announcement warning people to be vigilant online after scammers posing as the city’s animal shelter were discovered on Facebook.

The scammers behind the “Help the Petersburg Animals” page have taken hundreds of dollars from their victims. The operators of the page post photos of animals that they believe are up for adoption. Then, when a visitor pays for an animal adoption fee, the scammer simply takes the money without giving the victim the animal they paid for.

8News spoke to a woman who said she was the victim of this scam.

“The page looked absolutely legit,” Samantha Casey said.

Casey and her family lost their dog in February and weren’t planning on getting another. However, one day she was browsing Facebook and came across the fake pet adoption page, “Help the animals of Petersburgwhere she saw a few dogs that caught her eye. She then noticed something strange.

“There was a French bulldog and there was also an English bulldog. I talked to my husband, he said, “That seems legit.” But there was something down there that said to see these dogs you have to post a $250 bond,” Casey said.

Casey sent the deposit fees to the operators of the page. She has never met dogs.

Police said there were other victims of this scam.

Animal rights activist Jill Navary said she was also a victim. The fake adoption page was originally a page she created and successfully helped other people adopt dogs from Petersburg Animal Care & Control. However, she told 8News her page was hacked after scammers sent her an email claiming to be from popular pet adoption website Petfinder.

Screenshots of hacked animal adoption pages on Facebook. Credit: 8News

“I received an email from Petfinder — which I now know was fake — saying I needed to link my Facebook to my Petfinder account,” Navary said.

From there, the scammers gained access to several pages operated by Navary: “Friends of Henrico County VA Animal Control”, “Help the Petersburg Animals”, and “Bully Rescue & Advocacy Group”. Navary’s pages have all been taken over by the scammers. One of the pages now has almost 10,000 subscribers.

When asked if she had gone to the police about the scammers, Navary replied: “I don’t know if they would care even if I walked into a police station and said I had been hacked on Facebook.”

Navary said she no longer has access to her own pages. Page locators now show that they are managed by accounts in Nigeria and Maryland. Navary has since created a new pet adoption pagebut it is not as popular as its previous ones.

A screenshot of the real pet adoption Facebook page Navary recently set up. Photo credit: D’mon Reynolds / 8News

As for the money people have lost to the scam, Navary said she feels horrible that she can’t help.

“I have never heard of anyone sending anything through the donate button. Everyone followed his instructions and sent it through Zelle. I’m sorry, I feel horrible,” she said.

Navary said she reported the scam to Facebook and was still waiting for them to take the pages down. Police are asking anyone with information to contact Crime Solvers at 804-861-1212, or submit a web tip.